Topographical mapping of α- and β-keratins on developing chicken skin integuments: Functional interaction and evolutionary perspectives

Published on Dec 8, 2015in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America9.58
· DOI :10.1073/pnas.1520566112
Ping Wu23
Estimated H-index: 23
(SC: University of Southern California),
Chen Siang Ng9
Estimated H-index: 9
(AS: Academia Sinica)
+ 9 AuthorsCheng-Ming Chuong61
Estimated H-index: 61
Avian integumentary organs include feathers, scales, claws, and beaks. They cover the body surface and play various functions to help adapt birds to diverse environments. These keratinized structures are mainly composed of corneous materials made of α-keratins, which exist in all vertebrates, and β-keratins, which only exist in birds and reptiles. Here, members of the keratin gene families were used to study how gene family evolution contributes to novelty and adaptation, focusing on tissue morphogenesis. Using chicken as a model, we applied RNA-seq and in situ hybridization to map α- and β-keratin genes in various skin appendages at embryonic developmental stages. The data demonstrate that temporal and spatial α- and β-keratin expression is involved in establishing the diversity of skin appendage phenotypes. Embryonic feathers express a higher proportion of β-keratin genes than other skin regions. In feather filament morphogenesis, β-keratins show intricate complexity in diverse substructures of feather branches. To explore functional interactions, we used a retrovirus transgenic system to ectopically express mutant α- or antisense β-keratin forms. α- and β-keratins show mutual dependence and mutations in either keratin type results in disrupted keratin networks and failure to form proper feather branches. Our data suggest that combinations of α- and β-keratin genes contribute to the morphological and structural diversity of different avian skin appendages, with feather-β-keratins conferring more possible composites in building intrafeather architecture complexity, setting up a platform of morphological evolution of functional forms in feathers.
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