Background: Transcriptional networks coordinate adipocyte differentiation and energy metabolism in rodents. The level of fiber and starch in diets with adequate energy content fed to young cattle has the potential to alter intramuscular adipose tissue development in skeletal muscle. Post-weaning alterations in gene expression networks driving adipogenesis, lipid filling, and intracellular energy metabolism provide a means to evaluate long-term effects of nutrition on longissimus muscle development across cattle types. Results: Longissimus lumborum (LL) from Angus (n = 6) and Angus × Simmental (A × S; n = 6) steer calves (155 ± 10 days age) fed isonitrogenous high-starch (HiS; 1.43 Mcal/kg diet dry matter; n = 6) or low-starch (LoS; 1.19 Mcal/kg diet dry matter; n = 6) diets was biopsied at 0, 56, and 112 days of feeding for transcript profiling of 31 genes associated with aspects of adipogenesis and energy metabolism. Intake of dietary energy (9.44 ± 0.57 Mcal/d) across groups during the study did not differ but feed efficiency (weight gain/feed intake) during the first 56 days was greater for steers fed HiS. Expression of PPARG increased ca. 2-fold by day 56 primarily due to HiS in A × S steers. Several potential PPARG-target genes (e.g., ACACA, FASN, FABP4, SCD) increased 2.5-to-25-fold by day 56 across all groups, with responses (e.g., FASN, FABP4) being less pronounced in A × S steers fed LoS. This latter group of steers had markedly greater blood plasma glucose (0.99 vs. 0.79 g/L) and insulin (2.95 vs. 1.17 μg/L) by day 112, all of which were suggestive of insulin resistance. Interactions were observed for FABP4, FASN, GPAM, SCD, and DGAT2, such that feeding A × S steers high-starch and Angus steers low-starch resulted in greater fold-changes by day 56 or 112 (GPAM). Marked up-regulation of INSIG1 (4-to-8-fold) occurred throughout the study across all groups. SREBF1 expression, however, was only greater on day 112 namely due to LoS in A × S steers. The lipogenic transcription factor THRSP was 6-to-60-fold greater by day 56 primarily due to HiS in A × S steers, constituting the greatest response among all genes. Conclusion: Results involving gene markers of mature adipocytes (e.g., PPARG, THRSP, SCD) provided evidence of intramuscular adipose tissue differentiation during the early portion of the growing phase. The resulting gene networks underscored a central role for PPARG in controlling transcription of genes which are known to co-ordinately regulate adipocyte differentiation and lipid filling in non-ruminants. Unlike rodents, INSIG1 appears to play an important role in cattle muscle adipogenesis. We propose that a network of transcription regulators and nuclear receptors including PPARG-target genes, INSIG1, and THRSP, coordinate activation of adipocyte differentiation and lipid filling at an early age.
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