Transcriptomic analysis of different tissue layers in antler growth Center in Sika Deer (Cervus nippon)

Hengxing Ba, Datao Wang, Tung On Yau, Yudong Shang, Chunyi Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: With the unprecedented rapid growth rate (up to 2.75 cm/day), velvet antler is an invaluable model for the identification of potent growth factors and signaling networks for extremely fast growing tissues, mainly cartilage. Antler growth center (AGC) locates in its tip and consists of five tissue layers: reserve mesenchyme (RM), precartilage (PC), transition zone (TZ), cartilage (CA) and mineralized cartilage (MC). The aim of this study was to investigate the transcription dynamics in the AGC using RNA-seq technology.

RESULTS: Five tissue layers in the AGC were collected from three 3-year-old male sika deer using our previously reported sampling method (morphologically distinguishable). After sequencing (15 samples; triplicates/tissue layer), we assembled a reference transcriptome de novo and used RNA-seq to measure gene expression profiles across these five layers. Nine differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were selected from our data and subsequently verified using qRT-PCR. The results showed a high consistency with the RNA-seq results (R2 = 0.80). Nine modules were constructed based on co-expression network analysis, and these modules contained 370 hub genes. These genes were found to be mainly involved in mesenchymal progenitor cell proliferation, chondrogenesis, osteogenesis and angiogenesis. Combination of our own results with the previously published reports, we found that Wnt signaling likely plays a key role not only in stimulating the antler stem cells or their immediate progeny, but also in promoting chondrogenesis and osteogenesis during antler development.

CONCLUSION: We have successfully assembled a reference transcriptome, generated gene expression profiling across the five tissue layers in the AGC, and identified nine co-expressed modules that contain 370 hub genes and genes predorminantly expressed in and highly relevant to each tissue layer. We believe our findings have laid the foundation for the identification of novel genes for rapid proliferation and chondrogenic differentiation of antler cells.

Original languageEnglish
Article number173
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
Publication statusPrint publication - 5 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Animals
  • Antlers/growth & development
  • Cartilage/growth & development
  • Cell Differentiation/genetics
  • Chondrogenesis/genetics
  • Deer/genetics
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental/genetics
  • Male
  • Organ Specificity/genetics
  • Osteogenesis/genetics
  • Transcriptome/genetics


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