BACKGROUND: In oviparous vertebrates, including fish, vitellogenesis consists of highly regulated pathways involving 17beta-estradiol (E2). Previous studies focused on a relatively small number of hepatic expressed genes during vitellogenesis. This study aims to identify hepatic genes involved in vitellogenesis and regulated by E2, by using zebrafish microarray gene expression profiling, and to provide information on functional distinctive genes expressed in the liver of a vitellogenic female, using zebrafish as a model fish. RESULTS: Genes associated with vitellogenesis were revealed by the following paired t-tests (SAM) comparisons: a) two-month old vitellogenic (Vit2) females were compared with non-vitellogenic (NV) females, showing 825 differentially expressed transcripts during early stages of vitellogenesis, b) four-month old vitellogenic (Vit4) females were compared with NV females, showing 1,046 differentially expressed transcripts during vitellogenesis and c) E2-treated males were compared with control males, showing 1,828 differentially expressed transcripts regulated by E2. A Venn diagram revealed 822 common transcripts in the three groups, indicating that these transcripts were involved in vitellogenesis and putatively regulated by E2. In addition, 431 transcripts were differentially expressed in Vit2 and Vit4 females but not in E2-treated males, indicating that they were putatively not up-regulated by E2. Correspondence analysis showed high similarity in expression profiles of Vit2 with Vit4 and of NV females with control males. The E2-treated males differed from the other groups. The repertoire of genes putatively regulated by E2 in vitellogenic females included genes associated with protein synthesis and reproduction. Genes associated with the immune system processes and biological adhesion, were among the genes that were putatively not regulated by E2. E2-treated males expressed a large array of transcripts that were not associated with vitellogenesis.The study revealed several genes that were not reported before as being regulated by E2. Also, the hepatic expression of several genes was reported here for the first time. CONCLUSION: Gene expression profiling of liver samples revealed 1,046 differentially expressed transcripts during vitellogenesis of which at least ~64% were regulated by E2. The results raise the question on the regulation pattern and temporal pleiotropic expression of hepatic genes in vitellogenic females
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