Regulation of gene expression plays a central role in embryonic development. Early stages are controlled by gametic transcripts, which are subsequently substituted with transcripts from the genome of the zygote. Transcriptomic analyses provide an efficient approach to explore the temporal gene expression profiles in embryos and to search for the developmental regulators. We report a study of early Atlantic cod development that used a genome-wide oligonucleotide microarray to examine the composition and putative roles of polyadenylated transcripts.
The analyses were carried out in unfertilized oocytes, newly fertilized oocytes and embryos at the stages of mid-blastula transition and segmentation. Numerous genes transcribed in oocytes are involved in multiple aspects of cell maintenance and protection, including metabolism, signal perception and transduction, RNA processing, cell cycle, defense against pathogens and DNA damage. Transcripts found in unfertilized oocytes also encoded a large number of proteins implicated in cell adherence, tight junction and focal adhesion, suggesting high complexity in terms of structure and cellular interactions in embryos prior to midblastula transition (MBT). Prezygotic transcripts included multiple regulators that are most likely involved in developmental processes that take place long after fertilization, such as components of ErbB, hedgehog, notch, retinoid, TGFb, VEGF and Wnt signaling pathways, as well as transcripts involved in the development of nervous system. The major event of MBT was the activation of a large group of histones and other genes that modify chromatin structure preceding massive gene expression changes. A hallmark of events observed during segmentation was the induction of multiple transcription factors, including a large group of homeobox proteins in pace with decay of a large fraction of maternal transcripts. Microarray analyses detected a suite of master developmental regulators that control differentiation and maintenance of diverse cell lineages.
Transcriptome profiling of the early stages in Atlantic cod revealed the presence of transcripts involved in patterning and development of tissues and organs long before activation of the zygotic genome. The switch from maternal to zygotic developmental programs is associated with large-scale modification of chromosomes.
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