Mutations of pigment type switching have provided basic insight into melanocortin physiology and evolutionary adaptation. In all vertebrates that have been studied to date, two key genes, Agouti and Melanocortin 1 receptor (Mc1r), encode a ligand-receptor system that controls the switch between synthesis of red–yellow pheomelanin vs. black–brown eumelanin. However, in domestic dogs, historical studies based on pedigree and segregation analysis have suggested that the pigment type-switching system is more complicated and fundamentally different from other mammals. Using a genomewide linkage scan on a Labrador × greyhound cross segregating for black, yellow, and brindle coat colors, we demonstrate that pigment type switching is controlled by an additional gene, the K locus. Our results reveal three alleles with a dominance order of black (KB) > brindle (kbr) > yellow (ky), whose genetic map position on dog chromosome 16 is distinct from the predicted location of other pigmentation genes. Interaction studies reveal that Mc1r is epistatic to variation at Agouti or K and that the epistatic relationship between Agouti and K depends on the alleles being tested. These findings suggest a molecular model for a new component of the melanocortin signaling pathway and reveal how coat-color patterns and pigmentary diversity have been shaped by recent selection.
MORPHOLOGIC variation among domestic dogs exemplifies the power of selective breeding to uncover a diversity of phenotypes from a relatively homogeneous founder population. Major questions posed by this phenomenon are the extent to which widely different phenotypes are caused by previously existing genetic variation or new mutations and by epistatic interactions vs. single loci (reviewed in Falconer 1992; Barton and Keightley 2002). In several cases, line crosses between divergent populations, e.g., mice or chickens with high or low body weight (Carlborg et al. 2006; Hrbek et al. 2006), maize with high or low oil content (Laurie et al. 2004), and Drosophila melanogaster with different numbers of bristles (Dilda and Mackay 2002), have been used to study selective breeding; for the most part, these approaches provide a genome-level view of genetic architecture and are particularly useful if little is known about the underlying cell and molecular biology of the phenotypes, if there are a large number of candidate genes, or if one wishes to make no prior assumptions about the number or types of genes involved.
An alternative approach, taken here, is to consider a particular phenotype that has been subject to selection and use classical transmission genetics to investigate questions of allelism and epistasis. This approach is particularly useful for color variation, which often exhibits patterns of inheritance that are consistent with Mendelian transmission and for which the underlying biochemical and molecular genetic pathways have been investigated in laboratory animals (Searle 1968; Silvers 1979; Jackson 1997). The case of eumelaninic vs. pheomelaninic coloration is particularly intriguing, since available evidence points to a genetic system in domestic dogs that is distinct from that known to operate in other mammals (Little 1957).
In all mammals that have been studied to date, hair follicle melanocytes synthesize red–yellow pheomelanin or black–brown eumelanin, depending on the balance between two key genes, Agouti and Melanocortin 1 receptor (Mc1r) (Andersson 2003; Klungland and Vage 2003). Agouti encodes a signaling molecule secreted from specialized cells in the dermis that acts as an inhibitory ligand for the Mc1r expressed on melanocytes (reviewed in Barsh 2006; Cone 2006). Mutations that constitutively activate the Mc1r cause a uniform black appearance, generally inherited in a dominant manner, while mutations that inactivate the Mc1r cause a uniform red or yellow appearance, generally inherited in a recessive manner. Conversely, because Agouti protein inhibits Mc1r activity, gain-of-function mutations yield dominant inheritance of a yellow coat, while loss-of-function mutations yield recessive inheritance of a black coat. Much of the classical genetics underlying the aforementioned relationships was summarized in a series of articles by Sewall Wright (1917a,b,c,d, 1918a,b), when Mc1r was known as the Extension locus (because different alleles could extend the amount of yellow vs. black pigment), and loss-of-function Mc1r mutations were known as recessive yellow (e).
Most dogs with a uniform black appearance, e.g., the Newfoundland, the flat-coated retriever, black Labrador retrievers, or black poodles, exhibit dominant transmission of the black color, consistent with mutations that constitutively activate the Mc1r. However, pedigree and segregation analyses carried out by Clarence Cook Little (1957) indicated that dominant black was nonallelic with recessive yellow, leading to the suggestion that dominant black might be an unusual allele of the Agouti locus, AS. Recently, we examined a Labrador retriever × greyhound backcross with molecular probes for Agouti and Mc1r and concluded that neither gene could account for the Labrador-derived black variant, which was inherited in an apparent autosomal dominant manner and to which we provisionally assigned the symbol K (Kerns et al. 2003).
An additional aspect of coat-color variation in domestic dogs that appears distinct from most other mammals is the phenotype known as brindle, in which stripes of red–yellow hair alternate with black–brown hair. Brindle stripes form an irregular pattern, typically with a “V” shape over the dorsum and an “S” shape over flanks and ventrum and are somewhat reminiscent of a dermatologic phenomenon in humans known as lines of Blaschko, thought to be caused by mosaicism of gene expression in keratinocyte clones (Jackson 1976; Bolognia et al. 1994; Widelitz et al. 2006). Brindle segregates as a single gene in a variety of dog breeds, such as the boxer, greyhound, and French bulldog, and has been thought by some authors to be caused by variation in Agouti, but by others to be caused by variation in Mc1r (Winge 1950; Little 1957; Willis 1989).
To better understand the genetic mechanisms responsible for coat-color diversity among domestic dogs, we carried out a genomewide linkage scan on pedigrees segregating dominant black, brindle, or both. Our results reveal a single locus with three alleles—yellow (ky), brindle (kbr), and black (KB)—whose genetic map position is clearly distinct from pigmentation genes known in other mammals. Interactions between alleles of the K locus and those of Agouti and Mc1r uncover a simple genetic architecture that explains all known eumelanic–pheomelanic variation and helps to reveal how selection has shaped morphologic diversity among different breeds of domestic dogs.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
DNA samples and pedigrees:
Genomic DNA from blood or cheek swab samples was isolated according to standard procedures. Pedigrees in Figures 1 and 2 were established by three of us (R. J. Todhunter, G. Lust and M. Olivier) at Cornell University to study hip dysplasia; pedigrees in Figure 3 were ascertained by one of us (S. M. Schmutz) as part of a series of ongoing studies on dog coat-color genetics and were donated by private breeders. In all cases, pedigree relationships were verified by determining that multiple markers exhibited Mendelian segregation in accord with expectations.
Genotyping, statistical analysis, and genomics:
Genotyping for the minimal screening set I panel of simple sequence length polymorphism (SSLP) repeat markers described by Richman et al. (2001) was carried out using multiplex PCR as previously described (Cargill et al. 2002; Clark et al. 2004). Fluorescently labeled PCR products were separated on the automated laser fluorescence DNA sequencer ABI377 (Perkin-Elmer, Norwalk, CT), using GENESCAN (version 2.1) fragment analysis software, and alleles were identified using the GENOTYPER program (version 2.0; Perkin-Elmer).
Prior to linkage analysis, Mendelian error checking was performed. The data were then analyzed under a model of autosomal dominant inheritance for black vs. nonblack, assuming complete penetrance. Two-point linkage analyses were carried out using the MLINK (to generate LOD scores at different θ-values) and ILINK programs (to maximize LOD) from the LINKAGE 5.1 package (Lathrop and Lalouel 1984). Given the small number of animals in the scan, further analysis of additional markers was done manually to determine the critical region and to infer haplotypes, as depicted in Figures 1–3⇑⇑.
To infer the epistasis relationships among Agouti, Mc1r, and K alleles, we determined the Agouti and Mc1r coding sequence by sequencing PCR-amplified fragments of genomic DNA. Primer sequences have been described previously (Newton et al. 2000; Schmutz et al. 2003; Kerns et al. 2004; Berryere et al. 2005) and are available upon request. We determined K genotypes using linkage and pedigree analysis (as described below) and, in some cases, by using additional markers that are in linkage disequilibrium with K locus alleles, which will be described elsewhere. Genotypes for all three loci were determined (by resequencing Agouti and Mc1r or by genotyping flanking markers for K as described above) for every individual depicted in Figures 1–3⇑⇑. This included 35 animals from the Cornell Labrador retriever × greyhound cross, 10 Afghan hounds, 8 Great Danes, and 10 Staffordshire bull terriers. At least 5 animals from each of four additional breeds—German shepherd dogs, French bulldogs, boxers, and poodles—were also genotyped for all three loci as described in Table 3.
The physical location of markers and consideration of candidate genes is based on the CanFam1.0 assembly of the dog whole-genome sequence (Lindblad-Toh et al. 2005) available through the UCSC Genome Browser (Karolchik et al. 2003).
Historically, Little and others (Little 1957; Willis 1989) recognized that at least two different genes could give rise to a uniform pheomelanic coat and used the term “fawn” to refer to the phenotype caused by the ay allele of Agouti, distinguished from a similar phenotype caused by a loss-of-function Mc1r allele, originally known as recessive yellow or e, and now known to represent Mc1rR306ter. In some cases, differential gene action was inferred on the basis of the phenotype, with homozygosity for Mc1rR306ter giving rise to a clear or diluted yellow color, and the ay allele of Agouti referring to a deeper, often dark-tinged shade of red–yellow. In hindsight, the effects of Agouti and Mc1r alleles cannot always be distinguished by virtue of their phenotype; also, the K locus genotype is equally important in determining the balance and distribution of pheomelanin vs. eumelanin. To reconcile the historical terms with both common usage and modern genetics, we propose that alleles of the K locus be designated as yellow (ky), brindle (kbr), and black (KB). A summary of this nomenclature that relates the historical terms to those used here and the underlying genetics (described further below) is given in Table 1.
Genomewide linkage scan and fine mapping for dominant black:
In a Labrador retriever × greyhound cross that was established at Cornell University to study hip dysplasia, a subset of kindreds exhibit transmission of coat-color variation in a pattern that is consistent with inheritance of dominant black as originally suggested by Little (1957). Black Labrador retrievers crossed to yellow or brindle greyhounds invariably yield black F1 offspring; when an F1 animal is backcrossed to the greyhound parent, backcross progeny exhibit 1:1 segregation of black to nonblack.
In previous studies of the EB and GB kindreds (Figure 1) from this cross (Kerns et al. 2003), we observed that variation at neither Mc1r nor Agouti could account for dominant black (as an allele of the putative K locus); therefore we carried out a genomewide linkage scan of the same kindreds using a dense panel of highly informative SSLP markers. For the initial screen of 19 animals (Figure 1), 125 of 155 markers from the “minimal screening set” described by Richman et al. (2001) were informative. We analyzed the results by two-point linkage analysis under a model of dominant inheritance with complete penetrance and observed that there were three loci on chromosomes 4 and 16 (CFA4, CFA16) that exceeded a LOD score of 2 (Table 2).
The strongest evidence for linkage was obtained on CFA16 with marker FH2155 (Zmax = 3.6 at θ = 0). We used the same marker, FH2155, to analyze four additional kindreds from the Cornell pedigree (Figure 2 and data not shown) and observed no recombinants between FH2155 and the K locus, yielding a LOD score of 6 at θ = 0.
To refine the map location, we examined three additional markers surrounding FH2155 that span a distance of ∼24 Mb—FH3592, REN275L19, and FH2175. In the EB and GB kindreds, recombinant chromosomes in two animals, EB57 and GB17, define a critical region between FH2175 and FH3592 of 23.7 Mb (33.7–57.4). An additional marker that lies between FH2175 and FH2155, REN292N24, was informative only for the FB and HB kindreds (Figure 2), but exhibited the same segregation pattern as FH2175 (3/10 recombinants), which therefore narrows the critical region to a 12-Mb segment (45.4–57.4, Figure 2B).
This region of the dog genome contains two human homology segments, 4q34–4q35 and 8p12, and has been annotated with >250 genes, mostly from other mammalian genomes (Figure 2C). Notably, none of those genes has been previously implicated in pigmentation, i.e., as a cause of human albinism or a mouse coat-color mutation. Thus, the dog K locus is likely to represent a previously unappreciated component of the Agouti–Melanocortin pathway.
Allelism of yellow (ky) and brindle:
As depicted in Figures 1 and 2, the FB, GB, and HB litters contain only black and yellow animals, whereas the EB litter and several of the parents in the Cornell cross are brindle. These observations are consistent either with brindle being an intermediate allele of the K locus, recessive to black (K) and dominant to yellow (ky), or with brindle being caused by another gene whose effects are hypostatic to those of the K allele. On the basis of the previous studies in which brindle × brindle crosses often yielded a mixture of brindle and yellow (but never black) progeny, many dog breeders and geneticists assumed that brindle is caused by an intermediate allele of the extension locus, ebr, that is dominant to recessive yellow (e or Mc1rR306ter) but hypostatic to dominant black (originally assigned to AS).
To investigate whether allelism or epistasis was more likely to explain the relationship between brindle and the K locus, we ascertained several kindreds in which brindle and yellow segregated and asked whether FH2155, which cosegregated perfectly with black vs. yellow (Figures 1 and 2), might also cosegregate with brindle vs. yellow. As depicted in Figure 3, there was perfect cosegregation between FH2155 and brindle vs. yellow in five phase-known meioses (in an Afghan pedigree) and 14 phase-unknown meioses (across a Great Dane and a Staffordshire bull terrier pedigree), corresponding to a LOD score of 3.6. We also reexamined all kindreds in the entire Cornell cross and a boxer pedigree (data not shown) and found that, in every case, transmission of brindle was consistent with an intermediate allele of the K locus with the following dominance relationships: dominant black (KB) > brindle (kbr) > yellow (ky).
Epistatic interactions between alleles of the Agouti, K, and Mc1r loci:
As indicated above, loss of function for Mc1r (recessive yellow, e) causes a yellow coat color that may appear very similar or even indistinguishable from that caused by homozygosity for yellow (ky). Likewise, loss of function for Agouti (nonagouti, a) causes a black coat color that is indistinguishable from that caused by heterozygosity for black (KB). To investigate the epistatic relationships between K locus alleles and those of Agouti and Mc1r, we determined the genotype for all three loci in key animals from the pedigrees depicted in Figures 1–3⇑⇑ and additional animals described in previous studies (Schmutz et al. 2003; Kerns et al. 2004; Berryere et al. 2005). For Agouti, we used the predicted cDNA sequence to distinguish among the ay, at, and a alleles (Berryere et al. 2005); for Mc1r, we used the predicted cDNA sequence to distinguish between the R306ter (e) allele and all others (referred to below as Mc1r+).
The consequent genotype–phenotype relationships provide a coherent view of epistatic interactions. For example, the Labrador retrievers Andy (Figure 1A) and A14 (Figure 2A) have a genotype of at/at; KB/KB; e/e; both animals have a yellow coat, demonstrating that loss of function for Mc1r is epistatic to both the black-and-tan (at) allele of Agouti and the black (KB) allele of the K locus. In fact, Labrador retrievers are fixed for the black (KB) allele of the K locus and the black-and-tan (at) allele of the Agouti locus; thus, black Labrador retrievers demonstrate that the ability of the K locus to produce black pigment is epistatic to that of the Agouti locus to produce yellow pigment (because at/at; KB/KB animals are black rather than black and tan).
Observations for an additional two breeds are particularly demonstrative. Traditionally marked German shepherd dogs are fixed for the yellow (ky) allele of the K locus and the + allele of Mc1r; the difference between black and black-and-tan German shepherd dogs is determined solely by the nonagouti (a) vs. the at allele of Agouti. Thus, the ability of Agouti to prevent production of yellow pigment is epistatic to that of the K locus to allow yellow pigment. (Stated differently, the yellow allele (k−y) of the K locus can give rise only to yellow pigment in the presence of a functional Agouti allele.) Finally, Afghan hounds with a K genotype that would ordinarily yield brindle (kbr/kbr or kbr/ky) may vary at both Agouti (at or ay) and Mc1r (+ or R306ter). In all cases, the interactions between kbr and Agouti or Mc1r alleles can be predicted on the basis of what happens for ky and for KB. In at/at; kbr/kbr; +/+ animals, brindling is restricted to the areas of the coat that would otherwise be tan (“black and brindle”); in e/e animals, brindling is not apparent because Mc1r is epistatic not only to KB but also to kbr.
These relationships, together with specific examples in which we have directly determined the genotypes for Agouti, Mc1r, and K, are summarized in Table 3, and their implications for understanding the underlying biochemical pathways are depicted in Figure 4. There are several key points. First, the relationship between Mc1r and Agouti in dogs is identical to that which occurs in other mammals where Agouti acts to antagonize melanocortin signaling in a manner that is completely dependent on a functional receptor. Second, Mc1r is epistatic to all K locus variation, and the K gene product behaves similarly to Agouti protein in this way; each requires a functional Mc1r to modulate melanocortin signaling. Finally, the epistatic relationship between Agouti and K depends on the alleles being tested: “black alleles” of K are epistatic to “yellow alleles” of Agouti, but “black alleles” of Agouti are epistatic to “yellow alleles” of K. Thus, the relationship between Agouti and K is fundamentally different from the relationship between Mc1r and either Agouti or K.
These considerations suggest two alternative models (Figure 4). The K gene product may lie genetically upstream of Agouti and inhibit its function, either as a negative regulator of Agouti mRNA expression or as a post-translational inhibitor that reduces the levels of active Agouti protein at the Mc1r (Figure 4A). Alternatively, the K gene product may act directly at the Mc1r to stimulate melanocortin signaling and thereby oppose the action of Agouti protein indirectly (Figure 4B).
A general theme of pigmentary genetics for the last century is that patterns of Mendelian variation within one species frequently display apparent homology to those in other species. For example, similar segregation and dominance relationships are observed among mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, and cats for the phenotypic series full color > chinchilla > acromelanic > albino, leading to the suggestion that mutations in the same gene—now known as Tyrosinase—are responsible. These types of observations, first made by Sewall Wright (1917c) and later by Clarence Cook Little (1957) and A. G. Searle (1968), foreshadowed the field of comparative genomics. Indeed, comparison of genome sequences not only clarified the evolutionary relationships among mammals (and most other organisms), but also provided the tools to identify molecular alterations responsible for the Tyrosinase color series in mice (Kwon et al. 1989), cats (Lyons et al. 2005; Schmidt-Kuntzel et al. 2005), cattle (Schmutz et al. 2004), and rabbits (Aigner et al. 2000) (although, ironically, not yet in guinea pigs).
Dominant black and brindle in dogs have been curious and somewhat confusing exceptions to the aforementioned theme. Historically, the allelic relationships for the Agouti locus—to which dominant black was assigned as the AS allele—were thought to be opposite to what pertains in other mammals, where “yellow alleles” are dominant to “black alleles” (Little 1957). In the case of brindle, assigned to the Mc1r locus as ebr, epistasis relationships were confusing, with ebr epistatic to the ay allele but not to the AS allele (ay/ay; ebr/ebr animals would be brindle but AS/AS; ebr/ebr animals would be black).
The work described here resolves this confusion by demonstrating that both dominant black and brindling are due to alleles of a previously unappreciated pigmentation gene that we have named the K locus. Although the K locus is an apparent exception to the idea that the same set of molecular tools are used in all mammals, its recognition reinforces the general theme that genetic interactions and pathways for orthologous genes are conserved. Thus, interactions both within and between Agouti and Mc1r alleles in dogs are identical to those observed in other mammals: “black” Mc1r alleles are dominant to “yellow” Mc1r alleles, “yellow” Agouti alleles are dominant to “black” Agouti alleles, and double mutants for Mc1r and Agouti always exhibit the phenotype of single Mc1r mutants.
Our original survey of Mc1r variation among domestic dogs (Newton et al. 2000) was motivated by the idea that dominant black might be due to a gain-of-function Mc1r allele, as described in many other vertebrates (Eizirik et al. 2003; Klungland and Vage 2003; Mundy and Kelly 2003; Nachman et al. 2003; Rosenblum et al. 2004; Hoekstra et al. 2006). Although we and others have identified a number of Mc1r polymorphisms among domestic dogs (Everts et al. 2000; Newton et al. 2000; Schmutz et al. 2003), the only one for which there is an unequivocal effect on function is R306ter, responsible for the loss-of-function allele originally described as recessive yellow (e). Given the diversity of coat colors and patterns selected in modern breeds, it is perhaps surprising that an Mc1r mutation that causes dominant black has not been found in dogs. However, a likely explanation is that variation at the K locus is relatively old among the canid lineage, since preexisting polymorphism for k vs. K would make it less likely that a new dominant black mutation at Mc1r would be noticed.
Because the black (KB) allele is epistatic to variation at Agouti, the yellow (ky) allele probably represents the ancestral state; otherwise, the Agouti phenotype (and other aspects of Agouti-induced variation such as white-bellied Agouti and black and tan) would have been cryptic in the ancestral population where variation at K first occurred. According to this hypothesis, wolf populations from which dogs were domesticated some 15,000–40,000 years ago were Agouti colored or a gray modification of Agouti, similar to the appearance of modern wolves (Vila et al. 1999; Savolainen et al. 2002). Mutation from ky to KB is likely to have occurred prior to the origin of modern breeds several hundred years ago and could even have been present in wolves as an adaptive polymorphism prior to domestication. An alternative scenario—positing that brindle (kbr) is the ancestral allele, with yellow (ky) and black (KB) as derivative alleles—is less likely, given that the brindle phenotype is not present in modern canids other than domestic dogs.
Superficially, the brindle phenotype in domestic dogs shares some features with tabby striping in domestic cats (Lomax and Robinson 1988). Both involve patches or stripes of eumelanic vs. pheomelanic hairs, and both require the presence of a functional Agouti gene. However, the allelic system for tabby striping is probably opposite to brindle: the presence of black tabby stripes (tb) is recessive to the absence of such stripes associated with the Abyssinian (Ta) allele in cats, while the presence of black brindle stripes (kbr) is dominant to the absence of such stripes associated with the yellow (ky) allele in dogs. Equally important, the pattern of tabby striping is alternating and regular, consistent with an underlying pattern based on a Turing-like reaction–diffusion mechanism (Suzuki et al. 2003; Jiang et al. 2004; Widelitz et al. 2006). By contrast, the pattern of brindle stripes is irregular and variegated, most consistent with an epigenetic mechanism (discussed further below). These considerations are consistent with the view based on phylogenetic distribution of color patterns that tabby striping and brindling have independent evolutionary histories (Searle 1968).
The evolutionary history of variation at the K locus will also have an impact on strategies for its molecular identification. The 12-Mb region to which K has been mapped contains ∼250 genes, many of which might plausibly be involved in melanocortin signaling (but none of which are obvious candidates). While additional pedigree-based linkage analysis could further narrow the critical interval, a potentially more effective strategy is based on genetic association. Additional genotyping of SSLP and SNP markers within the 12-Mb interval should reveal whether the K, kbr, and k alleles have specific haplotypes with which they are associated. If so, comparing the length of those haplotypes among unrelated animals may delineate a small candidate region. Success of this approach will depend on the degree to which K locus alleles are identical by descent.
The epistasis relationships between K and Agouti or Mc1r may also help to prioritize candidate genes. A functional Mc1r is required to “visualize” variation at K and at Agouti; e.g., animals homozygous for the Mc1r R306ter (e) allele are yellow regardless of their genotype at K or Agouti. Furthermore, a functional Agouti gene is required to “visualize” variation at K. This latter point is especially apparent from interactions between the black-and-tan (at) and the brindle (kbr) mutations. The at mutation affects transcriptional regulation of Agouti coding sequences, limiting their expression to the dorsum or saddle areas; thus, the tan areas in black-and-tan animals (of genotype at/at; ky/ky; Mc1r+/+) represent locations of Agouti expression. In at/at; kbr/kbr; Mc1r+/+ animals, the effects of kbr are restricted to the areas of Agouti expression, producing the phenotype known as “black and brindle” or “black with brindle points.” Taken together, these considerations suggest that the K gene product functions outside, rather than within, melanocytes either as a negative regulator of Agouti protein levels or as an alternative Mc1r ligand that activates melanocortin signaling (Figure 4).
A corollary of this argument is that the stripes in a brindle animal are likely to represent clones of skin cells that behave genetically as either KB or ky, in which the irregular and unpredictable distance between stripes reflects a stochastic event that initially “sets” the apparent genotype for each clone. The brindle-stripe pattern is similar to Blaschko lines in humans, thought to be caused by mosaicism of gene expression in keratinocyte clones (Bolognia et al. 1994; Widelitz et al. 2006). From this perspective, the fascinating pattern caused by the kbr mutation is most likely explained by an unstable allele—between yellow (ky) and black (KB)—that acquires one or the other state by chance and then maintains that state epigenetically as keratinocytes divide and migrate during embryonic development. An epigenetic event acting on keratinocyte clones would also explain why the brindle pattern in dogs is qualitatively different from variegation observed in X-inactivation mosaics or embryonic stem cell chimeras, where the relevant cell type is usually a neural-crest-derived melanocyte, as with chimeras involving the albino mutation, or dermal papilla cells, as with chimeras involving Agouti (Mintz 1971a,b; Millar et al. 1995; Wilkie et al. 2002). Thus, a likely candidate for the K gene product is a secreted protein produced primarily by keratinocytes, but which, like Agouti protein, has a short radius of action.
Molecular identification of the Agouti and Mc1r genes provided much of the molecular groundwork for understanding the role of melanocortin signaling in a variety of physiologic processes, including regulation of energy balance, sexual behavior, and adrenocortical homeostasis. Additional studies of the K locus in domestic dogs may allow similar opportunities.
We thank J. Longmire for his support of J.A.K., Elaine Ostrander for helpful discussions, and Alma Williams for collecting and organizing data from the Cornell pedigree. We are grateful to the dog breeders who generously submitted DNA samples from their litters and to the DogMap and the National Human Genome Research Institute dog genome project for providing public access to the canine map at http://www.dogmap.ch/index.html and http://research.nhgri.nih.gov/dog_genome/. This work was supported by funds from the National Institutes of Health.
- Received April 4, 2007.
- Accepted April 26, 2007.
- Copyright © 2007 by the Genetics Society of America