Environmental heat stress triggers a series of compensatory mechanisms in sheep that are dependent on their genetic regulation of thermotolerance. Our objective was to identify genes and regulatory pathways associated with thermotolerance in ewes exposed to heat stress. We performed next-generation RNA sequencing on blood collected from 16 pregnant ewes, which were grouped as tolerant and non-tolerant to heat stress according to a physiological indicator. Additional samples were collected to measure complete blood count. A total of 358 differentially expressed genes were identified after applying selection criteria. Gene expression analysis detected 46 GO terms and 52 KEGG functional pathways. The top-three signaling pathways were p53, RIG-I-like receptor and FoxO, which suggested gene participation in biological processes such as apoptosis, cell signaling and immune response to external stressors. Network analysis revealed ATM, ISG15, IRF7, MDM4, DHX58 and TGFβR1 as over-expressed genes with high regulatory potential. A co-expression network involving the immune-related genes ISG15, IRF7 and DXH58 was detected in lymphocytes and monocytes, which was consistent with hematological findings. In conclusion, transcriptomic analysis revealed a non-viral immune mechanism involving apoptosis, which is induced by external stressors and appears to play an important role in the molecular regulation of heat stress tolerance in ewes.
- heat stress
ASJC Scopus subject areas