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The pituitary-specific transcription factor (POU1F1) is a protein which binds to and transactivates promoters of growth hormone (GH), prolactin (PRL) and thyroid-stimulating hormone chain (TSHB)-encoding genes. Ten chicken populations (n = 662), including six Chinese indigenous breeds, White Leghorn, paternal/maternal lines of brown egg layer and a paternal line of broiler, were used to detect single nucleotide polymorphisms in the pituitary-specific transcription factor gene (PIT1) by means of PCR-SSCP. A nucleotide transversion from adenine (A) to thymidine (T) at position 980 of the open reading frame of the PIT1 cDNA (GenBank accession no. AF029892) was identified. This nucleotide transversion results in an alteration of codon 299 from AAC to ATC, which leads to a change from asparagine (Asn) to isoleucine (Ile) in the POU domain of POU1F1. The distribution of allele and genotype frequencies differed significantly between meat-type chickens (higher frequencies of A and A/A) and layer-type chickens (P < 0.01). Another experimental population with growth records was used to evaluate the relationship between this polymorphism and growth rate. The results revealed a positive relationship between genotype A/A and body weight at 8 weeks of age, indicating that the SNP in PIT1 gene is a potential molecular marker for early growth rate in chicken.