Previous results from a genome scan in an F2 Iberian × Meishan pig intercross showed several chromosome regions associated with litter size traits in this species. In order to identify candidate genes underlying these quantitative trait loci (QTL), we performed an ovary gene expression analysis during the sow's pregnancy. F2 sows were ranked by their estimated breeding values for prolificacy: six sows with the highest estimated breeding value (EBV) (i.e., high prolificacy) and six sows with the lowest EBV (low prolificacy) were selected. Samples were hybridized using an Affymetrix GeneChip porcine genome array. Statistical analysis with a mixed model approach identified 221 differentially expressed probes, representing 189 genes. These genes were functionally annotated in order to identify genetic pathways overrepresented in this list. Among the functional groups most represented was, in first position, immune system response activation against external stimulus. The second group consisted of integrated genes that regulate maternal homeostasis by complement and coagulation cascades. A third group was involved in lipid and fatty acid enzymes of metabolic processes, which participate in the steroidogenesis pathway. In order to identify powerful candidate genes for prolificacy, the second approach of this study was to merge microarray data with the QTL positional information affecting litter size, previously detected in the same experimental cross. As a result, we have identified 27 differentially expressed genes colocalizing with QTL for litter size traits, which fulfill the biological, positional, and functional criteria.
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Vol. 84 • No. 2