Wooden breast is a muscle disorder affecting modern commercial broiler chickens that causes a palpably firm pectoralis major muscle and severe reduction in meat quality. Most studies have focused on advanced stages of wooden breast apparent at market age, resulting in limited insights into the etiology and early pathogenesis of the myopathy. Therefore, the objective of this study was to identify early molecular signals in the wooden breast transcriptional cascade by performing gene expression analysis on the pectoralis major muscle of two-week-old birds that may later exhibit the wooden breast phenotype by market age at 7 weeks. Biopsy samples of the left pectoralis major muscle were collected from 101 birds at 14 days of age. Birds were subsequently raised to 7 weeks of age to allow sample selection based on the wooden breast phenotype at market age. RNA-sequencing was performed on 5 unaffected and 8 affected female chicken samples, selected based on wooden breast scores (0 to 4) assigned at necropsy where affected birds had scores of 2 or 3 (mildly or moderately affected) while unaffected birds had scores of 0 (no apparent gross lesions). Differential expression analysis identified 60 genes found to be significant at an FDR-adjusted p
-value of 0.05. Of these, 26 were previously demonstrated to exhibit altered expression or genetic polymorphisms related to glucose tolerance or diabetes mellitus in mammals. Additionally, 9 genes have functions directly related to lipid metabolism and 11 genes are associated with adiposity traits such as intramuscular fat and body mass index. This study suggests that wooden breast disease is first and foremost a metabolic disorder characterized primarily by ectopic lipid accumulation in the pectoralis major.
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