Heterosis, a phenomenon characterized by the superior performance of hybrid individuals relative to their parents, has been widely utilized in livestock and crop breeding, while the underlying genetic basis remains elusive in chickens. Here, we performed a reciprocal crossing experiment with broiler and layer chickens and conducted RNA sequencing on liver tissues for reciprocal crosses and their parental lines to identify inheritance patterns of gene expression. Our results showed that heterosis of the abdominal fat percentage was 69.28%–154.71% in reciprocal crosses. Over-dominant genes of reciprocal crosses were significantly enriched in three biological pathways, namely, butanoate metabolism, the synthesis and degradation of ketone bodies, and valine, leucine, and isoleucine degradation. Among these shared over-dominant genes, we found that a lipid-related gene, HMGCL,
was enriched in these pathways. Furthermore, we validated this gene as over-dominant using qRT-PCR. Although no shared significant pathway was detected in the high-parent dominant genes of reciprocal crosses, high-parent dominant gene expression was the major gene inheritance pattern in reciprocal crosses and we could not exclude the effect of high-parent dominant genes. These findings suggest that non-additive genes play important roles in the heterosis of important traits in chickens and have important implications regarding our understanding of heterosis.
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