The heritability of the expression of two stress-regulated gene fragments in pigs
Pigs reared in commercial production units sometimes encounter stressors that significantly decrease growth performance. It is hypothesized that response to stress challenges could potentially be used as selection criteria. This study aimed to investigate, in a commercial setting, the heritability of two target genes previously shown to be induced in response to stress, and related to growth performance, in an experimental situation. Blood samples (n = 2,392) were collected from three separate breeding lines of pedigreed and performance-tested boars between 24 to 25 wk of age. The expression levels of a novel fragment, '29a,' and the calcitonin receptor gene (CTR) were quantified using quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR) on a subset (n = 709) of the blood samples. Gene expression levels were corrected for the efficiency of PCR reactions and also computed directly from threshold cycle (Ct) values. Resulting data showed a skewed nonnormal distribution of expression levels for the target genes relative to the endogenous control, glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH), and were highly variable. Analyses were subsequently performed using untransformed and log-transformed data, with outliers identified and deleted in edited data sets. Regardless of the transformation or editing procedures for outliers applied, there was negligible genetic variation for the expression of target genes relative to GAPDH. In contrast, repeatabilities of replicate samples were generally high (between 0.54 and 0.67). Absolute expression levels for GAPDH and 29a were lowly heritable (h^sup 2^ of about 0.04), although estimates did not exceed their SE. Subsetting the data according to whether the target gene had a higher or lower level of expression than GAPDH was then performed using the relevant Ct values. In the subset where the target gene was more highly expressed than GAPDH, a moderate estimate of heritability (0.18 ± 0.10) for the log-transformed absolute expression level of 29a was obtained, whereas the estimate for its expression relative to GAPDH was lower (0.09 ± 0.07), Estimates of heritability did not increase in the subset of low expression data. The limitations of using gene expression measures as potential selection criteria in commercial situations are discussed.