Brilliant plumage is typical of male birds, thus sexual plumage dichromatism is seen in many avian species; however, the molecular mechanism underlying this remains unclear. The agouti signaling protein (. ASIP) is a paracrine factor that stimulates yellow/red pigment (pheomelanin) synthesis and inhibits black/brown pigment (eumelanin) synthesis in follicular melanocytes. In mammals, the distal promoter of the . ASIP gene acts exclusively on the ventral side of the body to create a countershading pigmentation pattern by stimulating pheomelanin synthesis in the ventrum. Here, we examined the role of the distal . ASIP promoter in controlling estrogen-dependent sexual dichromatism in chickens. Reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction analyses revealed that . ASIP class 1 mRNAs transcribed by the distal promoter were expressed exclusively on the ventral side of chicks and adult females displaying countershading. In showy adult males, the . ASIP class 1 mRNAs were expressed in gold-colored ornamental feathers grown on the back. In the presence of estrogen, males molted into female-like plumage and . ASIP class 1 mRNAs expression was altered to female patterns. These results suggest that the distal . ASIP promoter produces countershading in chicks and adult females, similar to the ventral-specific . ASIP promoter in mammals. In addition, the class 1 promoter plays an important role for creating sexual plumage dichromatism controlled by estrogen. This is the first evidence for a pigmentation gene having been modified in its expression during evolution to develop phenotypic diversity between individuals of different sexes.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Animal Science and Zoology