PLoS ONE (2011-01-01)

Using regulatory and epistatic networks to extend the findings of a genome scan: identifying the gene drivers of pigmentation in merino sheep.

  • Elsa García-Gámez,
  • Antonio Reverter,
  • Vicki Whan,
  • Sean M McWilliam,
  • Juan José Arranz,
  • International Sheep Genomics Consortium,
  • James Kijas

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 6, no. 6
p. e21158


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Extending genome wide association analysis by the inclusion of gene expression data may assist in the dissection of complex traits. We examined piebald, a pigmentation phenotype in both human and Merino sheep, by analysing multiple data types using a systems approach. First, a case control analysis of 49,034 ovine SNP was performed which confirmed a multigenic basis for the condition. We combined these results with gene expression data from five tissue types analysed with a skin-specific microarray. Promoter sequence analysis of differentially expressed genes allowed us to reverse-engineer a regulatory network. Likewise, by testing two-loci models derived from all pair-wise comparisons across piebald-associated SNP, we generated an epistatic network. At the intersection of both networks, we identified thirteen genes with insulin-like growth factor binding protein 7 (IGFBP7), platelet-derived growth factor alpha (PDGFRA) and the tetraspanin platelet activator CD9 at the kernel of the intersection. Further, we report a number of differentially expressed genes in regions containing highly associated SNP including ATRN, DOCK7, FGFR1OP, GLI3, SILV and TBX15. The application of network theory facilitated co-analysis of genetic variation with gene expression, recapitulated aspects of the known molecular biology of skin pigmentation and provided insights into the transcription regulation and epistatic interactions involved in piebald Merino sheep.