Conserved distal promoter of the agouti signaling protein (ASIP) gene controls sexual dichromatism in chickens

Eri Oribe, Ayaka Fukao, Chihiro Yoshihara, Misa Mendori, Karen G. Rosal, Sumio Takahashi, Sakae Takeuchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Brilliant plumage is typical of male birds, thus sexual plumage dichromatism is seen in many avian species; however, the molecular mechanism underlying this remains unclear. The agouti signaling protein (. ASIP) is a paracrine factor that stimulates yellow/red pigment (pheomelanin) synthesis and inhibits black/brown pigment (eumelanin) synthesis in follicular melanocytes. In mammals, the distal promoter of the . ASIP gene acts exclusively on the ventral side of the body to create a countershading pigmentation pattern by stimulating pheomelanin synthesis in the ventrum. Here, we examined the role of the distal . ASIP promoter in controlling estrogen-dependent sexual dichromatism in chickens. Reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction analyses revealed that . ASIP class 1 mRNAs transcribed by the distal promoter were expressed exclusively on the ventral side of chicks and adult females displaying countershading. In showy adult males, the . ASIP class 1 mRNAs were expressed in gold-colored ornamental feathers grown on the back. In the presence of estrogen, males molted into female-like plumage and . ASIP class 1 mRNAs expression was altered to female patterns. These results suggest that the distal . ASIP promoter produces countershading in chicks and adult females, similar to the ventral-specific . ASIP promoter in mammals. In addition, the class 1 promoter plays an important role for creating sexual plumage dichromatism controlled by estrogen. This is the first evidence for a pigmentation gene having been modified in its expression during evolution to develop phenotypic diversity between individuals of different sexes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-237
Number of pages7
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2012


  • ASIP
  • Chicken
  • Feather
  • Melanocortin
  • Pigmentation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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