Conformation Traits and Gaits in the Icelandic Horse are Associated with Genetic Variants in Myostatin (MSTN)

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Abstract

Many genes are known to have an influence on conformation and performance traits; however, the role of one gene, Myostatin (MSTN), has been highlighted in recent studies on horses. Myostatin acts as a repressor in the development and regulation of differentiation and proliferative growth of skeletal muscle. Several studies have examined the link between MSTN, conformation, and performance in racing breeds, but no studies have investigated the relationship in Icelandic horses. Icelandic horses, a highly unique breed, are known both for their robust and compact conformation as well as their additional gaits tölt and pace. Three SNPs (g.65868604G>T [PR8604], g.66493737C>T [PR3737], and g.66495826A>G [PR5826]) flanking or within equine MSTN were genotyped in 195 Icelandic horses. The SNPs and haplotypes were analyzed for association with official estimated breeding values (EBV) for conformation traits (n = 11) and gaits (n = 5). The EBV for neck, withers, and shoulders was significantly associated with both PR8604 and PR3737 (P < 0.05). PR8604 was also associated with EBV for total conformation (P = 0.05). These associations were all supported by the haplotype analysis. However, while SNP PR5826 showed a significant association with EBVs for leg stance and hooves (P < 0.05), haplotype analyses for these traits failed to fully support these associations. This study demonstrates the possible role of MSTN on both the form and function of horses from non-racing breeds. Further analysis of Icelandic horses as well as other non-racing breeds would be beneficial and likely help to completely understand the influence of MSTN on conformation and performance in horses.

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