A genome-wide epistatic network underlies the molecular architecture of continuous color variation of body extremities: a rabbit model
Deciphering the molecular architecture of coat coloration for a better understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying pigmentation still remains a challenge. We took advantage of a rabbit French experimental population in which both a pattern and a gradient of coloration from white to brown segregated within the himalayan phenotype. The whole experimental design was genotyped using the high density Affymetrix(R) AxiomOrcun SNP Array and phenotyped into 6 different groups ordered from the lighter to the darker. Genome-wide association analyses pinpointed an oligogenic determinism, under recessive and additive inheritance, involving genes already known in melanogenesis (ASIP, KIT, MC1R, TYR), and likely processed pseudogenes linked to ribosomal function, RPS20 and RPS14. We also identified (i) gene-gene interactions through ASIP:MC1R affecting light cream/beige phenotypes while KIT:RPS responsible of dark chocolate/brown colors and (ii) a genome-wide epistatic network involving several others coloration genes such as POT1 or HPS5. Finally, we determined the recessive inheritance of the English spotting phenotype likely involving a copy number variation affecting at least the end of the coding sequence of the KIT gene. Our analyses of coloration as a continuous trait allowed us to go beyond much of the established knowledge through the detection of additional genes and gene-gene interactions that may contribute to the molecular architecture of the coloration phenotype. Moreover, the characterization of a network including genes that contribute to melanogenesis and pigmentation, two processes affected in various human disorders, shows the potential interest of our rabbit model for transversal studies.