The initial stages of development depend on mRNA and proteins accumulated in the oocyte, and during these stages, certain genes are essential for fertilization, first cleavage and embryonic genome activation. The aim of this study was first to search for avian oocyte-specific genes using an in silico and a microarray approaches, then to investigate the temporal and spatial dynamics of the expression of some of these genes during follicular maturation and early embryogenesis.
The in silico approach allowed us to identify 18 chicken homologs of mouse potential oocyte genes found by digital differential display. Using the chicken Affymetrix microarray, we identified 461 genes overexpressed in granulosa cells (GCs) and 250 genes overexpressed in the germinal disc (GD) of the hen oocyte. Six genes were identified using both in silico and microarray approaches. Based on GO annotations, GC and GD genes were differentially involved in biological processes, reflecting different physiological destinations of these two cell layers. Finally we studied the spatial and temporal dynamics of the expression of 21 chicken genes. According to their expression patterns all these genes are involved in different stages of final follicular maturation and/or early embryogenesis in the chicken. Among them, 8 genes (btg4, chkmos, wee, zpA, dazL, cvh, zar1 and ktfn) were preferentially expressed in the maturing occyte and cvh, zar1 and ktfn were also highly expressed in the early embryo.
We showed that in silico and Affymetrix microarray approaches were relevant and complementary in order to find new avian genes potentially involved in oocyte maturation and/or early embryo development, and allowed the discovery of new potential chicken mature oocyte and chicken granulosa cell markers for future studies. Moreover, detailed study of the expression of some of these genes revealed promising candidates for maternal effect genes in the chicken. Finally, the finding concerning the different state of rRNA compared to that of mRNA during the postovulatory period shed light on some mechanisms through which oocyte to embryo transition occurs in the hen.