Hypomethylation in the promoter region of ZPBP as a potential litter size indicator in Berkshire pigs
In pigs, litter size is typically defined as the total number of piglets born (TNB) or the number of piglets born alive (NBA). Increasing pig litter size is of great economic interest as a means to increase productivity. The capacity of the uterus is a critical component of litter size and may play a central role in prolificacy. In this study, we investigated litter-size-related epigenetic markers in uterine tissue from Berkshire pigs with smaller litter size groups (SLGs) and larger litter size groups (LLGs) using genome-wide bisulfite sequencing (GWBS). A total of 3269 differentially methylated regions (DMRs) were identified: 1566 were hypermethylated and 1703 hypomethylated in LLG compared to SLG. The zona pellucida binding protein (ZPBP) gene was significantly hypomethylated in the LLG promoter region, and its expression was significantly upregulated in uterine tissue. Thus, the methylation status of ZPBP gene was identified as a potential indicator of litter size. Furthermore, we verified its negative correlation with litter size traits (TNB and NBA) in whole blood samples from 172 Berkshire sows as a blood-based biomarker by a porcine methylation-specific restriction enzyme polymerase chain reaction (PMP) assay. The results suggest that the methylation status of the ZPBP gene can serve as a valuable epigenetic biomarker for hyperprolific sows.