During early development in vertebrates, pluripotent cells are generated from the neural crest and migrate according to their presumptive fate. In birds and mammals, one of the progeny cells, melanoblasts, generally migrate through a dorsolateral route of the trunk region and differentiate to melanocytes. However, Silky is an exceptional chicken in which numerous melanoblasts travel via a ventral pathway and disperse into internal organs. Finally, these ectopic melanocytes induce heavy dermal and visceral melanization known as Fibromelanosis (Fm). To identify the genetic basis of this phenotype, we confirmed the mode of inheritance of Fm as autosomal dominant and then performed linkage analysis with microsatellite markers and sequence-tagged site markers. Using 85 backcross progeny from crossing Black Minorca chickens (BM-C) with F1 individuals between White Silky (WS) and BM-C Fm was located on 10.2-11.7 Mb of chicken chromosome 20. In addition, we noticed a DNA marker that all Silky chickens and the F1 individuals showed heterozygous genotyping patterns, suggesting gene duplication in the Fm region. By quantitative real-time PCR assay, Silky line-specific gene duplication was detected as an ̃130-kb interval. It contained five genes including endothelin 3 (EDN3), which encoded a potent mitogen for melanoblasts/melanocytes. EDN3 with another three of these duplicated genes in Silky chickens expressed almost twofold of those in BM-C. Present results strongly suggest that the increase of the expression levels resulting from the gene duplication in the Fm region is the trigger of hypermelanization in internal organs of Silky chickens.
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