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1.  Integrating genome annotation and QTL position to identify candidate genes for productivity, architecture and water-use efficiency in Populus spp 
BMC Plant Biology  2012;12:173.
Background
Hybrid poplars species are candidates for biomass production but breeding efforts are needed to combine productivity and water use efficiency in improved cultivars. The understanding of the genetic architecture of growth in poplar by a Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL) approach can help us to elucidate the molecular basis of such integrative traits but identifying candidate genes underlying these QTLs remains difficult. Nevertheless, the increase of genomic information together with the accessibility to a reference genome sequence (Populus trichocarpa Nisqually-1) allow to bridge QTL information on genetic maps and physical location of candidate genes on the genome. The objective of the study is to identify QTLs controlling productivity, architecture and leaf traits in a P. deltoides x P. trichocarpa F1 progeny and to identify candidate genes underlying QTLs based on the anchoring of genetic maps on the genome and the gene ontology information linked to genome annotation. The strategy to explore genome annotation was to use Gene Ontology enrichment tools to test if some functional categories are statistically over-represented in QTL regions.
Results
Four leaf traits and 7 growth traits were measured on 330 F1 P. deltoides x P. trichocarpa progeny. A total of 77 QTLs controlling 11 traits were identified explaining from 1.8 to 17.2% of the variation of traits. For 58 QTLs, confidence intervals could be projected on the genome. An extended functional annotation was built based on data retrieved from the plant genome database Phytozome and from an inference of function using homology between Populus and the model plant Arabidopsis. Genes located within QTL confidence intervals were retrieved and enrichments in gene ontology (GO) terms were determined using different methods. Significant enrichments were found for all traits. Particularly relevant biological processes GO terms were identified for QTLs controlling number of sylleptic branches: intervals were enriched in GO terms of biological process like ‘ripening’ and ‘adventitious roots development’.
Conclusion
Beyond the simple identification of QTLs, this study is the first to use a global approach of GO terms enrichment analysis to fully explore gene function under QTLs confidence intervals in plants. This global approach may lead to identification of new candidate genes for traits of interest.
doi:10.1186/1471-2229-12-173
PMCID: PMC3520807  PMID: 23013168
2.  Distribution of candidate genes for experimentally induced arthritis in rats 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:146.
Background
Rat models are frequently used to link genomic regions to experimentally induced arthritis in quantitative trait locus (QTL) analyses. To facilitate the search for candidate genes within such regions, we have previously developed an application (CGC) that uses weighted keywords to rank genes based on their descriptive text. In this study, CGC is used for analyzing the localization of candidate genes from two viewpoints: distribution over the rat genome and functional connections between arthritis QTLs.
Methods
To investigate if candidate genes identified by CGC are more likely to be found inside QTLs, we ranked 2403 genes genome wide in rat. The number of genes within different ranges of CGC scores localized inside and outside QTLs was then calculated. Furthermore, we investigated if candidate genes within certain QTLs share similar functions, and if these functions could be connected to genes within other QTLs. Based on references between genes in OMIM, we created connections between genes in QTLs identified in two distinct rat crosses. In this way, QTL pairs with one QTL from each cross that share an unexpectedly high number of gene connections were identified. The genes that were found to connect a pair of QTLs were then functionally analysed using a publicly available classification tool.
Results
Out of the 2403 genes ranked by the CGC application, 1160 were localized within QTL regions. No difference was observed between highly and lowly rated genes. Hence, highly rated candidate genes for arthritis seem to be distributed randomly inside and outside QTLs. Furthermore, we found five pairs of QTLs that shared a significantly high number of interconnected genes. When functionally analyzed, most genes connecting two QTLs could be included in a single functional cluster. Thus, the functional connections between these genes could very well be involved in the development of an arthritis phenotype.
Conclusions
From the genome wide CGC search, we conclude that candidate genes for arthritis in rat are randomly distributed between QTL and non-QTL regions. We do however find certain pairs of QTLs that share a large number of functionally connected candidate genes, suggesting that these QTLs contain a number of genes involved in similar functions contributing to the arthritis phenotype.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-146
PMCID: PMC2838850  PMID: 20196835
3.  Identifying the genetic determinants of transcription factor activity 
Genome-wide messenger RNA expression levels are highly heritable. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying this heritability are poorly understood.The influence of trans-acting polymorphisms is often mediated by changes in the regulatory activity of one or more sequence-specific transcription factors (TFs). We use a method that exploits prior information about the DNA-binding specificity of each TF to estimate its genotype-specific regulatory activity. To this end, we perform linear regression of genotype-specific differential mRNA expression on TF-specific promoter-binding affinity.Treating inferred TF activity as a quantitative trait and mapping it across a panel of segregants from an experimental genetic cross allows us to identify trans-acting loci (‘aQTLs') whose allelic variation modulates the TF. A few of these aQTL regions contain the gene encoding the TF itself; several others contain a gene whose protein product is known to interact with the TF.Our method is strictly causal, as it only uses sequence-based features as predictors. Application to budding yeast demonstrates a dramatic increase in statistical power, compared with existing methods, to detect locus-TF associations and trans-acting loci. Our aQTL mapping strategy also succeeds in mouse.
Genetic sequence variation naturally perturbs mRNA expression levels in the cell. In recent years, analysis of parallel genotyping and expression profiling data for segregants from genetic crosses between parental strains has revealed that mRNA expression levels are highly heritable. Expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs), whose allelic variation regulates the expression level of individual genes, have successfully been identified (Brem et al, 2002; Schadt et al, 2003). The molecular mechanisms underlying the heritability of mRNA expression are poorly understood. However, they are likely to involve mediation by transcription factors (TFs). We present a new transcription-factor-centric method that greatly increases our ability to understand what drives the genetic variation in mRNA expression (Figure 1). Our method identifies genomic loci (‘aQTLs') whose allelic variation modulates the protein-level activity of specific TFs. To map aQTLs, we integrate genotyping and expression profiling data with quantitative prior information about DNA-binding specificity of transcription factors in the form of position-specific affinity matrices (Bussemaker et al, 2007). We applied our method in two different organisms: budding yeast and mouse.
In our approach, the inferred TF activity is explicitly treated as a quantitative trait, and genetically mapped. The decrease of ‘phenotype space' from that of all genes (in the eQTL approach) to that of all TFs (in our aQTL approach) increases the statistical power to detect trans-acting loci in two distinct ways. First, as each inferred TF activity is derived from a large number of genes, it is far less noisy than mRNA levels of individual genes. Second, the number of trait/marker combinations that needs to be tested for statistical significance in parallel is roughly two orders of magnitude smaller than for eQTLs. We identified a total of 103 locus-TF associations, a more than six-fold improvement over the 17 locus-TF associations identified by several existing methods (Brem et al, 2002; Yvert et al, 2003; Lee et al, 2006; Smith and Kruglyak, 2008; Zhu et al, 2008). The total number of distinct genomic loci identified as an aQTL equals 31, which includes 11 of the 13 previously identified eQTL hotspots (Smith and Kruglyak, 2008).
To better understand the mechanisms underlying the identified genetic linkages, we examined the genes within each aQTL region. First, we found four ‘local' aQTLs, which encompass the gene encoding the TF itself. This includes the known polymorphism in the HAP1 gene (Brem et al, 2002), but also novel predictions of trans-acting polymorphisms in RFX1, STB5, and HAP4. Second, using high-throughput protein–protein interaction data, we identified putative causal genes for several aQTLs. For example, we predict that a polymorphism in the cyclin-dependent kinase CDC28 antagonistically modulates the functionally distinct cell cycle regulators Fkh1 and Fkh2. In this and other cases, our approach naturally accounts for post-translational modulation of TF activity at the protein level.
We validated our ability to predict locus-TF associations in yeast using gene expression profiles of allele replacement strains from a previous study (Smith and Kruglyak, 2008). Chromosome 15 contains an aQTL whose allelic status influences the activity of no fewer than 30 distinct TFs. This locus includes IRA2, which controls intracellular cAMP levels. We used the gene expression profile of IRA2 replacement strains to confirm that the polymorphism within IRA2 indeed modulates a subset of the TFs whose activity was predicted to link to this locus, and no other TFs.
Application of our approach to mouse data identified an aQTL modulating the activity of a specific TF in liver cells. We identified an aQTL on mouse chromosome 7 for Zscan4, a transcription factor containing four zinc finger domains and a SCAN domain. Even though we could not detect a candidate causal gene for Zscan4p because of lack of information about the mouse genome, our result demonstrates that our method also works in higher eukaryotes.
In summary, aQTL mapping has a greatly improved sensitivity to detect molecular mechanisms underlying the heritability of gene expression. The successful application of our approach to yeast and mouse data underscores the value of explicitly treating the inferred TF activity as a quantitative trait for increasing statistical power of detecting trans-acting loci. Furthermore, our method is computationally efficient, and easily applicable to any other organism whenever prior information about the DNA-binding specificity of TFs is available.
Analysis of parallel genotyping and expression profiling data has shown that mRNA expression levels are highly heritable. Currently, only a tiny fraction of this genetic variance can be mechanistically accounted for. The influence of trans-acting polymorphisms on gene expression traits is often mediated by transcription factors (TFs). We present a method that exploits prior knowledge about the in vitro DNA-binding specificity of a TF in order to map the loci (‘aQTLs') whose inheritance modulates its protein-level regulatory activity. Genome-wide regression of differential mRNA expression on predicted promoter affinity is used to estimate segregant-specific TF activity, which is subsequently mapped as a quantitative phenotype. In budding yeast, our method identifies six times as many locus-TF associations and more than twice as many trans-acting loci as all existing methods combined. Application to mouse data from an F2 intercross identified an aQTL on chromosome VII modulating the activity of Zscan4 in liver cells. Our method has greatly improved statistical power over existing methods, is mechanism based, strictly causal, computationally efficient, and generally applicable.
doi:10.1038/msb.2010.64
PMCID: PMC2964119  PMID: 20865005
gene expression; gene regulatory networks; genetic variation; quantitative trait loci; transcription factors
4.  Synthesis of 53 tissue and cell line expression QTL datasets reveals master eQTLs 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):532.
Background
Gene expression genetic studies in human tissues and cells identify cis- and trans-acting expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs). These eQTLs provide insights into regulatory mechanisms underlying disease risk. However, few studies systematically characterized eQTL results across cell and tissues types. We synthesized eQTL results from >50 datasets, including new primary data from human brain, peripheral plaque and kidney samples, in order to discover features of human eQTLs.
Results
We find a substantial number of robust cis-eQTLs and far fewer trans-eQTLs consistent across tissues. Analysis of 45 full human GWAS scans indicates eQTLs are enriched overall, and above nSNPs, among positive statistical signals in genetic mapping studies, and account for a significant fraction of the strongest human trait effects. Expression QTLs are enriched for gene centricity, higher population allele frequencies, in housekeeping genes, and for coincidence with regulatory features, though there is little evidence of 5′ or 3′ positional bias. Several regulatory categories are not enriched including microRNAs and their predicted binding sites and long, intergenic non-coding RNAs. Among the most tissue-ubiquitous cis-eQTLs, there is enrichment for genes involved in xenobiotic metabolism and mitochondrial function, suggesting these eQTLs may have adaptive origins. Several strong eQTLs (CDK5RAP2, NBPFs) coincide with regions of reported human lineage selection. The intersection of new kidney and plaque eQTLs with related GWAS suggest possible gene prioritization. For example, butyrophilins are now linked to arterial pathogenesis via multiple genetic and expression studies. Expression QTL and GWAS results are made available as a community resource through the NHLBI GRASP database [http://apps.nhlbi.nih.gov/grasp/].
Conclusions
Expression QTLs inform the interpretation of human trait variability, and may account for a greater fraction of phenotypic variability than protein-coding variants. The synthesis of available tissue eQTL data highlights many strong cis-eQTLs that may have important biologic roles and could serve as positive controls in future studies. Our results indicate some strong tissue-ubiquitous eQTLs may have adaptive origins in humans. Efforts to expand the genetic, splicing and tissue coverage of known eQTLs will provide further insights into human gene regulation.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-532) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-532
PMCID: PMC4102726  PMID: 24973796
eQTL; RNA; Gene expression; Genomics; Transcriptome; GWAS; Genome-wide; Tissue; Cis; Trans
5.  Integrative Modeling of eQTLs and Cis-Regulatory Elements Suggests Mechanisms Underlying Cell Type Specificity of eQTLs 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(8):e1003649.
Genetic variants in cis-regulatory elements or trans-acting regulators frequently influence the quantity and spatiotemporal distribution of gene transcription. Recent interest in expression quantitative trait locus (eQTL) mapping has paralleled the adoption of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) for the analysis of complex traits and disease in humans. Under the hypothesis that many GWAS associations tag non-coding SNPs with small effects, and that these SNPs exert phenotypic control by modifying gene expression, it has become common to interpret GWAS associations using eQTL data. To fully exploit the mechanistic interpretability of eQTL-GWAS comparisons, an improved understanding of the genetic architecture and causal mechanisms of cell type specificity of eQTLs is required. We address this need by performing an eQTL analysis in three parts: first we identified eQTLs from eleven studies on seven cell types; then we integrated eQTL data with cis-regulatory element (CRE) data from the ENCODE project; finally we built a set of classifiers to predict the cell type specificity of eQTLs. The cell type specificity of eQTLs is associated with eQTL SNP overlap with hundreds of cell type specific CRE classes, including enhancer, promoter, and repressive chromatin marks, regions of open chromatin, and many classes of DNA binding proteins. These associations provide insight into the molecular mechanisms generating the cell type specificity of eQTLs and the mode of regulation of corresponding eQTLs. Using a random forest classifier with cell specific CRE-SNP overlap as features, we demonstrate the feasibility of predicting the cell type specificity of eQTLs. We then demonstrate that CREs from a trait-associated cell type can be used to annotate GWAS associations in the absence of eQTL data for that cell type. We anticipate that such integrative, predictive modeling of cell specificity will improve our ability to understand the mechanistic basis of human complex phenotypic variation.
Author Summary
When interpreting genome-wide association studies showing that specific genetic variants are associated with disease risk, scientists look for a link between the genetic variant and a biological mechanism behind that disease. One functional mechanism is that the genetic variant may influence gene transcription via a co-localized genomic regulatory element, such as a transcription factor binding site within an open chromatin region. Often this type of regulation occurs in some cell types but not others. In this study, we look across eleven gene expression studies with seven cell types and consider how genetic transcription regulators, or eQTLs, replicate within and between cell types. We identify pervasive allelic heterogeneity, or transcriptional control of a single gene by multiple, independent eQTLs. We integrate extensive data on cell type specific regulatory elements from ENCODE to identify general methods of transcription regulation through enrichment of eQTLs within regulatory elements. We also build a classifier to predict eQTL replication across cell types. The results in this paper present a path to an integrative, predictive approach to improve our ability to understand the mechanistic basis of human phenotypic variation.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003649
PMCID: PMC3731231  PMID: 23935528
6.  Improved resolution in the position of drought-related QTLs in a single mapping population of rice by meta-analysis 
BMC Genomics  2009;10:276.
Background
Meta-analysis of QTLs combines the results of several QTL detection studies and provides narrow confidence intervals for meta-QTLs, permitting easier positional candidate gene identification. It is usually applied to multiple mapping populations, but can be applied to one. Here, a meta-analysis of drought related QTLs in the Bala × Azucena mapping population compiles data from 13 experiments and 25 independent screens providing 1,650 individual QTLs separated into 5 trait categories; drought avoidance, plant height, plant biomass, leaf morphology and root traits. A heat map of the overlapping 1 LOD confidence intervals provides an overview of the distribution of QTLs. The programme BioMercator is then used to conduct a formal meta-analysis at example QTL clusters to illustrate the value of meta-analysis of QTLs in this population.
Results
The heat map graphically illustrates the genetic complexity of drought related traits in rice. QTLs can be linked to their physical position on the rice genome using Additional file 1 provided. Formal meta-analysis on chromosome 1, where clusters of QTLs for all trait categories appear close, established that the sd1 semi-dwarfing gene coincided with a plant height meta-QTL, that the drought avoidance meta-QTL was not likely to be associated with this gene, and that this meta-QTL was not pleiotropic with close meta-QTLs for leaf morphology and root traits. On chromosome 5, evidence suggests that a drought avoidance meta-QTL was pleiotropic with leaf morphology and plant biomass meta-QTLs, but not with meta-QTLs for root traits and plant height 10 cM lower down. A region of dense root QTL activity graphically visible on chromosome 9 was dissected into three meta-QTLs within a space of 35 cM. The confidence intervals for meta-QTLs obtained ranged from 5.1 to 14.5 cM with an average of 9.4 cM, which is approximately 180 genes in rice.
Conclusion
The meta-analysis is valuable in providing improved ability to dissect the complex genetic structure of traits, and distinguish between pleiotropy and close linkage. It also provides relatively small target regions for the identification of positional candidate genes.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-10-276
PMCID: PMC2708188  PMID: 19545420
7.  Gramene QTL database: development, content and applications 
Gramene is a comparative information resource for plants that integrates data across diverse data domains. In this article, we describe the development of a quantitative trait loci (QTL) database and illustrate how it can be used to facilitate both the forward and reverse genetics research. The QTL database contains the largest online collection of rice QTL data in the world. Using flanking markers as anchors, QTLs originally reported on individual genetic maps have been systematically aligned to the rice sequence where they can be searched as standard genomic features. Researchers can determine whether a QTL co-localizes with other QTLs detected in independent experiments and can combine data from multiple studies to improve the resolution of a QTL position. Candidate genes falling within a QTL interval can be identified and their relationship to particular phenotypes can be inferred based on functional annotations provided by ontology terms. Mutations identified in functional genomics populations and association mapping panels can be aligned with QTL regions to facilitate fine mapping and validation of gene–phenotype associations. By assembling and integrating diverse types of data and information across species and levels of biological complexity, the QTL database enhances the potential to understand and utilize QTL information in biological research.
doi:10.1093/database/bap005
PMCID: PMC2790302  PMID: 20157478
8.  Different sets of QTLs influence fitness variation in yeast 
We have carried out a combination of in-lab-evolution (ILE) and congenic crosses to identify the gene sets that contribute to the ability of yeast cells to survive under alkali stress.Each selected line acquired a different set of mutations, all resulting in the same phenotype. We identified a total of 15 genes in ILE and 17 candidates in the congenic approach, and studied their individual contribution to the phenotype.The total additive effect of the QTLs was much larger than the difference between the ancestor and the evolved strains, suggesting epistatic interactions between the QTLs.None of the genes identified encode structural components of the pH machinery. Instead, most encode regulatory functions, such as ubiquitin ligases, chromatin remodelers, GPI anchoring and copper/iron sensing transcription factors.
The majority of phenotypes in nature are complex traits affected by multiple genes [usually called quantitative trait loci (QTLs)], as well as by environmental factors. Many traits with practical importance such as crop yield in plants and susceptibility to various diseases in humans fall under this category. Understanding the architecture of complex traits has become the new frontier of genetic research, and many studies have greatly contributed to this field. However, to date, the genetic basis of only a few of these traits has been identified, and many questions regarding the architecture of complex traits and the accumulation of QTLs during evolution still remain unanswered. Among them are: How many QTLs affect complex phenotypes? What is the effect of each QTL? How do complex traits change during evolution? Is the adaptation process repeatable?, etc. In order to identify the QTLs that affect one of the important components of fitness variability in yeast, and to answer some of the questions above, we combined in-lab evolution (ILE) with the construction of congenic lines to isolate and map several gene sets that contribute to the ability of yeast cells to survive under alkali stress.
We carried out an ILE experiment, in which we grew yeast populations under increasing alkali stress to enrich for beneficial mutations. This process was followed by hybridizations to tiling arrays to identify the mutations acquired during the laboratory selective process. The ILE procedure revealed mutations in 15 genes, thus defining the QTLs and mechanisms that affect, in a quantitative fashion, the ability to cope with alkali stress. Our results indicate that during ILE several populations acquired different sets of QTLs that conferred the same phenotype. We identified each individual mutation in these strains, and validated and estimated their contribution to the phenotype. The total additive effect of the QTLs was much larger than the difference between the ancestor and the evolved strains, suggesting epistatic interactions between the QTLs.
In addition to the ILE, we have studied the mechanisms regulating fitness under alkali stress at natural habitats. We used a clinically isolated strain able to grow at high pH and a standard laboratory strain with a limited ability to sustain high pH as the parents of series of backcrosses to construct congenic lines up to the 8th generation. Seventeen genomic intervals that are candidates to contain QTLs were thus identified. In order to detect the contributing QTL in each interval, a predictive algorithm was applied, which scored the candidate genes in each genomic interval based on their interactions and similarity to the ILE genes. The algorithm was validated by testing the effect of the predicted candidate gene's deletions on the phenotype. Twelve out of 29 deletions were found to affect the trait (P-value 0.023).
Interestingly, our results show that almost all beneficial mutations affected regulatory genes, and not structural components of the pH homeostasis machinery (such as proton pumps, which control the cell's pH). The genes identified affect global regulators, such as ubiquitin ligases, proteins involved in GPI anchoring, copper sensing and chromatin remodelers. Thus, we show that adaptive changes tend to occur in genes with wide influence, rather than in genes narrowly affecting the phenotype selected for.
One example of genes identified both in the ILE and in the congenic lines is the copper-sensing transcription factor MAC1, and its downstream targets CTR1 and CTR3, which encode copper transporters. Different mutations at the same residue (Cys 271) were found in four out of five independent ILE lines. These mutations inactivate a copper-sensing region of Mac1 and cause up-regulation of its target genes. The CTR1 and CTR3 genes were identified in the congenic lines. Moreover, we found that a Ty transposable element is responsible for the decreased expression of CTR3 in some strains, and its excision caused transcriptional activation, affecting the ability to thrive at high pH.
This work provides insights on both evolutionary and genetic issues (such as the appearance of adaptive mutations and the architecture of complex traits), while at the same time providing information about the mechanisms that contribute to growth at high pH, a subject with ramifications for cell physiology, pathogenicity, and stress response.
Most of the phenotypes in nature are complex and are determined by many quantitative trait loci (QTLs). In this study we identify gene sets that contribute to one important complex trait: the ability of yeast cells to survive under alkali stress. We carried out an in-lab evolution (ILE) experiment, in which we grew yeast populations under increasing alkali stress to enrich for beneficial mutations. The populations acquired different sets of affecting alleles, showing that evolution can provide alternative solutions to the same challenge. We measured the contribution of each allele to the phenotype. The sum of the effects of the QTLs was larger than the difference between the ancestor phenotype and the evolved strains, suggesting epistatic interactions between the QTLs. In parallel, a clinical isolated strain was used to map natural QTLs affecting growth at high pH. In all, 17 candidate regions were found. Using a predictive algorithm based on the distances in protein-interaction networks, candidate genes were defined and validated by gene disruption. Many of the QTLs found by both methods are not directly implied in pH homeostasis but have more general, and often regulatory, roles.
doi:10.1038/msb.2010.1
PMCID: PMC2835564  PMID: 20160707
congenic lines; growth on alkali; in-lab evolution; QTL mapping; Saccharomyces cerevisiae
9.  Genome Assembly Anchored QTL Map of Bovine Chromosome 14 
Bovine chromosome 14 (BTA14) has been widely explored for quantitative trait loci (QTL) and genes related to economically important traits in both dairy and beef cattle. We reviewed more than 40 investigations and anchored 126 QTL to the current genome assembly (Btau 4_0). Using this anchored QTL map, we observed that, in dairy cattle, the region spanning 0 – 10 Mb on BTA14 has the highest density QTL map with a total of 56 QTL, mainly for milk production traits. It is very likely that both somatic cell score (SCS) and clinical mastitis share some common QTL in two regions: 61.48 Mb - 73.84 Mb and 7.86 Mb – 39.55 Mb, respectively. As well, both ovulation rate and twinning rate might share a common QTL region from 34.16 Mb to 65.38 Mb. However, there are no common QTL locations in three pregnancy related phenotypes: non-return rate, pregnancy rate and daughter pregnancy rate. In beef cattle, the majority of QTL are located in a broad region of 15 Mb – 45 Mb on the chromosome. Functional genes, such as CRH, CYP11B1, DGAT1, FABP4 and TG, as potential candidates for some of these QTL, were also reviewed. Therefore, our review provides a standardized QTL map anchored within the current genome assembly, which would enhance the process of selecting positional and physiological candidate genes for many important traits in cattle.
PMCID: PMC2586679  PMID: 19043607
cattle; BTA14; QTL; review
10.  Genome-Wide Co-Expression Analysis in Multiple Tissues 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(12):e4033.
Expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) represent genetic control points of gene expression, and can be categorized as cis- and trans-acting, reflecting local and distant regulation of gene expression respectively. Although there is evidence of co-regulation within clusters of trans-eQTLs, the extent of co-expression patterns and their relationship with the genotypes at eQTLs are not fully understood. We have mapped thousands of cis- and trans-eQTLs in four tissues (fat, kidney, adrenal and left ventricle) in a large panel of rat recombinant inbred (RI) strains. Here we investigate the genome-wide correlation structure in expression levels of eQTL transcripts and underlying genotypes to elucidate the nature of co-regulation within cis- and trans-eQTL datasets. Across the four tissues, we consistently found statistically significant correlations of cis-regulated gene expression to be rare (<0.9% of all pairs tested). Most (>80%) of the observed significant correlations of cis-regulated gene expression are explained by correlation of the underlying genotypes. In comparison, co-expression of trans-regulated gene expression is more common, with significant correlation ranging from 2.9%–14.9% of all pairs of trans-eQTL transcripts. We observed a total of 81 trans-eQTL clusters (hot-spots), defined as consisting of ≥10 eQTLs linked to a common region, with very high levels of correlation between trans-regulated transcripts (77.2–90.2%). Moreover, functional analysis of large trans-eQTL clusters (≥30 eQTLs) revealed significant functional enrichment among genes comprising 80% of the large clusters. The results of this genome-wide co-expression study show the effects of the eQTL genotypes on the observed patterns of correlation, and suggest that functional relatedness between genes underlying trans-eQTLs is reflected in the degree of co-expression observed in trans-eQTL clusters. Our results demonstrate the power of an integrative, systematic approach to the analysis of a large gene expression dataset to uncover underlying structure, and inform future eQTL studies.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004033
PMCID: PMC2603584  PMID: 19112506
11.  QTL mapping in white spruce: gene maps and genomic regions underlying adaptive traits across pedigrees, years and environments 
BMC Genomics  2011;12:145.
Background
The genomic architecture of bud phenology and height growth remains poorly known in most forest trees. In non model species, QTL studies have shown limited application because most often QTL data could not be validated from one experiment to another. The aim of our study was to overcome this limitation by basing QTL detection on the construction of genetic maps highly-enriched in gene markers, and by assessing QTLs across pedigrees, years, and environments.
Results
Four saturated individual linkage maps representing two unrelated mapping populations of 260 and 500 clonally replicated progeny were assembled from 471 to 570 markers, including from 283 to 451 gene SNPs obtained using a multiplexed genotyping assay. Thence, a composite linkage map was assembled with 836 gene markers.
For individual linkage maps, a total of 33 distinct quantitative trait loci (QTLs) were observed for bud flush, 52 for bud set, and 52 for height growth. For the composite map, the corresponding numbers of QTL clusters were 11, 13, and 10. About 20% of QTLs were replicated between the two mapping populations and nearly 50% revealed spatial and/or temporal stability. Three to four occurrences of overlapping QTLs between characters were noted, indicating regions with potential pleiotropic effects. Moreover, some of the genes involved in the QTLs were also underlined by recent genome scans or expression profile studies.
Overall, the proportion of phenotypic variance explained by each QTL ranged from 3.0 to 16.4% for bud flush, from 2.7 to 22.2% for bud set, and from 2.5 to 10.5% for height growth. Up to 70% of the total character variance could be accounted for by QTLs for bud flush or bud set, and up to 59% for height growth.
Conclusions
This study provides a basic understanding of the genomic architecture related to bud flush, bud set, and height growth in a conifer species, and a useful indicator to compare with Angiosperms. It will serve as a basic reference to functional and association genetic studies of adaptation and growth in Picea taxa. The putative QTNs identified will be tested for associations in natural populations, with potential applications in molecular breeding and gene conservation programs. QTLs mapping consistently across years and environments could also be the most important targets for breeding, because they represent genomic regions that may be least affected by G × E interactions.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-145
PMCID: PMC3068112  PMID: 21392393
12.  Large-effect pleiotropic or closely linked QTL segregate within and across ten US cattle breeds 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):442.
Background
The availability of high-density SNP assays including the BovineSNP50 (50 K) enables the identification of novel quantitative trait loci (QTL) and improvement of the resolution of the locations of previously mapped QTL. We performed a series of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) using 50 K genotypes scored in 18,274 animals from 10 US beef cattle breeds with observations for twelve body weights, calving ease and carcass traits.
Results
A total of 159 large-effects QTL (defined as 1-Mb genome windows explaining more than 1% of additive genetic variance) were identified. In general, more QTL were identified in analyses with bigger sample sizes. Four large-effect pleiotropic or closely linked QTLs located on BTA6 at 37–42 Mb (primarily at 38 Mb), on BTA7 at 93 Mb, on BTA14 at 23–26 Mb (primarily at 25 Mb) and on BTA20 at 4 Mb were identified in more than one breed. Several breed-specific large-effect pleiotropic or closely linked QTL were also identified. Some identified QTL regions harbor genes known to have large effects on a variety of traits in cattle such as PLAG1 and MSTN and others harbor promising candidate genes including NCAPG, ARRDC3, ERGIC1, SH3PXD2B, HMGA2, MSRB3, LEMD3, TIGAR, SEPT7, and KIRREL3. Gene ontology analysis revealed that genes involved in ossification and in adipose tissue development were over-represented in the identified pleiotropic QTL. Also, the MAPK signaling pathway was identified as a common pathway affected by the genes located near the pleiotropic QTL.
Conclusions
This largest GWAS ever performed in beef cattle, led us to discover several novel across-breed and breed-specific large-effect pleiotropic QTL that cumulatively account for a significant percentage of additive genetic variance (e.g. more than a third of additive genetic variance of birth and mature weights; and calving ease direct in Hereford). These results will improve our understanding of the biology of growth and body composition in cattle.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-442) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-442
PMCID: PMC4102727  PMID: 24906442
Candidate gene; Cattle; GWAS; Pleiotropy; QTL; SNP
13.  Segregation of Regulatory Polymorphisms with Effects on the Gluteus Medius Transcriptome in a Purebred Pig Population 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35583.
Background
The main goal of the present study was to analyse the genetic architecture of mRNA expression in muscle, a tissue with an outmost economic importance for pig breeders. Previous studies have used F2 crosses to detect porcine expression QTL (eQTL), so they contributed with data that mostly represents the between-breed component of eQTL variation. Herewith, we have analysed eQTL segregation in an outbred Duroc population using two groups of animals with divergent fatness profiles. This approach is particularly suitable to analyse the within-breed component of eQTL variation, with a special emphasis on loci involved in lipid metabolism.
Methodology/Principal Findings
GeneChip Porcine Genome arrays (Affymetrix) were used to determine the mRNA expression levels of gluteus medius samples from 105 Duroc barrows. A whole-genome eQTL scan was carried out with a panel of 116 microsatellites. Results allowed us to detect 613 genome-wide significant eQTL unevenly distributed across the pig genome. A clear predominance of trans- over cis-eQTL, was observed. Moreover, 11 trans-regulatory hotspots affecting the expression levels of four to 16 genes were identified. A Gene Ontology study showed that regulatory polymorphisms affected the expression of muscle development and lipid metabolism genes. A number of positional concordances between eQTL and lipid trait QTL were also found, whereas limited evidence of a linear relationship between muscle fat deposition and mRNA levels of eQTL regulated genes was obtained.
Conclusions/Significance
Our data provide substantial evidence that there is a remarkable amount of within-breed genetic variation affecting muscle mRNA expression. Most of this variation acts in trans and influences biological processes related with muscle development, lipid deposition and energy balance. The identification of the underlying causal mutations and the ascertainment of their effects on phenotypes would allow gaining a fundamental perspective about how complex traits are built at the molecular level.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035583
PMCID: PMC3335821  PMID: 22545120
14.  Confirmation and fine-mapping of a major QTL for resistance to infectious pancreatic necrosis in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar): population-level associations between markers and trait 
BMC Genomics  2009;10:368.
Background
Infectious pancreatic necrosis (IPN) is one of the most prevalent and economically devastating diseases in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) farming worldwide. The disease causes large mortalities at both the fry- and post-smolt stages. Family selection for increased IPN resistance is performed through the use of controlled challenge tests, where survival rates of sib-groups are recorded. However, since challenge-tested animals cannot be used as breeding candidates, within-family selection is not performed and only half of the genetic variation for IPN resistance is being exploited. DNA markers linked to quantitative trait loci (QTL) affecting IPN resistance would therefore be a powerful selection tool. The aim of this study was to identify and fine-map QTL for IPN-resistance in Atlantic salmon, for use in marker-assisted selection to increase the rate of genetic improvement for this trait.
Results
A genome scan was carried out using 10 large full-sib families of challenge-tested Atlantic salmon post-smolts and microsatellite markers distributed across the genome. One major QTL for IPN-resistance was detected, explaining 29% and 83% of the phenotypic and genetic variances, respectively. This QTL mapped to the same location as a QTL recently detected in a Scottish Atlantic salmon population. The QTL was found to be segregating in 10 out of 20 mapping parents, and subsequent fine-mapping with additional markers narrowed the QTL peak to a 4 cM region on linkage group 21. Challenge-tested fry were used to show that the QTL had the same effect on fry as on post-smolt, with the confidence interval for QTL position in fry overlapping the confidence interval found in post-smolts. A total of 178 parents were tested for segregation of the QTL, identifying 72 QTL-heterozygous parents. Genotypes at QTL-heterozygous parents were used to determine linkage phases between alleles at the underlying DNA polymorphism and alleles at single markers or multi-marker haplotypes. One four-marker haplotype was found to be the best predictor of QTL alleles, and was successfully used to deduce genotypes of the underlying polymorphism in 72% of the parents of the next generation within a breeding nucleus. A highly significant population-level correlation was found between deduced alleles at the underlying polymorphism and survival of offspring groups in the fry challenge test, parents with the three deduced genotypes (QQ, Qq, qq) having mean offspring mortality rates of 0.13, 0.32, and 0.49, respectively. The frequency of the high-resistance allele (Q) in the population was estimated to be 0.30. Apart from this major QTL, one other experiment-wise significant QTL for IPN-resistance was detected, located on linkage group 4.
Conclusion
The QTL confirmed in this study represents a case of a major gene explaining the bulk of genetic variation for a presumed complex trait. QTL genotypes were deduced within most parents of the 2005 generation of a major breeding company, providing a solid framework for linkage-based MAS within the whole population in subsequent generations. Since haplotype-trait associations valid at the population level were found, there is also a potential for MAS based on linkage disequilibrium (LD). However, in order to use MAS across many generations without reassessment of linkage phases between markers and the underlying polymorphism, the QTL needs to be positioned with even greater accuracy. This will require higher marker densities than are currently available.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-10-368
PMCID: PMC2728743  PMID: 19664221
15.  Genomic Networks of Hybrid Sterility 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(2):e1004162.
Hybrid dysfunction, a common feature of reproductive barriers between species, is often caused by negative epistasis between loci (“Dobzhansky-Muller incompatibilities”). The nature and complexity of hybrid incompatibilities remain poorly understood because identifying interacting loci that affect complex phenotypes is difficult. With subspecies in the early stages of speciation, an array of genetic tools, and detailed knowledge of reproductive biology, house mice (Mus musculus) provide a model system for dissecting hybrid incompatibilities. Male hybrids between M. musculus subspecies often show reduced fertility. Previous studies identified loci and several X chromosome-autosome interactions that contribute to sterility. To characterize the genetic basis of hybrid sterility in detail, we used a systems genetics approach, integrating mapping of gene expression traits with sterility phenotypes and QTL. We measured genome-wide testis expression in 305 male F2s from a cross between wild-derived inbred strains of M. musculus musculus and M. m. domesticus. We identified several thousand cis- and trans-acting QTL contributing to expression variation (eQTL). Many trans eQTL cluster into eleven ‘hotspots,’ seven of which co-localize with QTL for sterility phenotypes identified in the cross. The number and clustering of trans eQTL—but not cis eQTL—were substantially lower when mapping was restricted to a ‘fertile’ subset of mice, providing evidence that trans eQTL hotspots are related to sterility. Functional annotation of transcripts with eQTL provides insights into the biological processes disrupted by sterility loci and guides prioritization of candidate genes. Using a conditional mapping approach, we identified eQTL dependent on interactions between loci, revealing a complex system of epistasis. Our results illuminate established patterns, including the role of the X chromosome in hybrid sterility. The integrated mapping approach we employed is applicable in a broad range of organisms and we advocate for widespread adoption of a network-centered approach in speciation genetics.
Author Summary
New species are created when barriers to reproduction form between groups of organisms that formerly interbred freely. Reduced fertility or viability of hybrid offspring is a common form of reproductive isolation. Hybrid defects are caused by negative interactions between genes that have undergone evolutionary change within each subgroup. Identifying genetic interactions causing disease or trait variation is very difficult, consequently there are few known hybrid incompatibility genes and even fewer cases where both interacting genes are known. Here, we combined mapping of gene expression levels in testis with previous results mapping male sterility traits in hybrid house mice. This new approach to finding genetic causes of reproductive barriers enabled us to identify a large number of hybrid incompatibilities, involving genomic regions with known roles in hybrid sterility and previously unknown regions. Understanding the number and type of genetic interactions is important for developing accurate models used to reconstruct speciation events. The genetics of hybrid sterility in mice may also contribute to understanding basic processes involved in male reproduction and causes of human infertility.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004162
PMCID: PMC3930512  PMID: 24586194
16.  A comprehensive meta QTL analysis for fiber quality, yield, yield related and morphological traits, drought tolerance, and disease resistance in tetraploid cotton 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:776.
Background
The study of quantitative trait loci (QTL) in cotton (Gossypium spp.) is focused on traits of agricultural significance. Previous studies have identified a plethora of QTL attributed to fiber quality, disease and pest resistance, branch number, seed quality and yield and yield related traits, drought tolerance, and morphological traits. However, results among these studies differed due to the use of different genetic populations, markers and marker densities, and testing environments. Since two previous meta-QTL analyses were performed on fiber traits, a number of papers on QTL mapping of fiber quality, yield traits, morphological traits, and disease resistance have been published. To obtain a better insight into the genome-wide distribution of QTL and to identify consistent QTL for marker assisted breeding in cotton, an updated comparative QTL analysis is needed.
Results
In this study, a total of 1,223 QTL from 42 different QTL studies in Gossypium were surveyed and mapped using Biomercator V3 based on the Gossypium consensus map from the Cotton Marker Database. A meta-analysis was first performed using manual inference and confirmed by Biomercator V3 to identify possible QTL clusters and hotspots. QTL clusters are composed of QTL of various traits which are concentrated in a specific region on a chromosome, whereas hotspots are composed of only one trait type. QTL were not evenly distributed along the cotton genome and were concentrated in specific regions on each chromosome. QTL hotspots for fiber quality traits were found in the same regions as the clusters, indicating that clusters may also form hotspots.
Conclusions
Putative QTL clusters were identified via meta-analysis and will be useful for breeding programs and future studies involving Gossypium QTL. The presence of QTL clusters and hotspots indicates consensus regions across cultivated tetraploid Gossypium species, environments, and populations which contain large numbers of QTL, and in some cases multiple QTL associated with the same trait termed a hotspot. This study combines two previous meta-analysis studies and adds all other currently available QTL studies, making it the most comprehensive meta-analysis study in cotton to date.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-776
PMCID: PMC3830114  PMID: 24215677
17.  Multiple QTL for Horticultural Traits and Quantitative Resistance to Phytophthora infestans Linked on Solanum habrochaites Chromosome 11 
G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics  2014;5(2):219-233.
Previously, a Phytophthora infestans resistance QTL from Solanum habrochaites chromosome 11 was introgressed into cultivated tomato (S. lycopersicum). Fine mapping of this resistance QTL using near-isogenic lines (NILs) revealed some co-located QTL with undesirable effects on plant size, canopy density, and fruit size traits. Subsequently, higher-resolution mapping with sub-NILs detected multiple P. infestans resistance QTL within this 9.4-cM region of chromosome 11. In our present study, these same sub-NILs were also evaluated for 17 horticultural traits, including yield, maturity, fruit size and shape, fruit quality, and plant architecture traits in replicated field experiments over 2 years. The horticultural trait QTL originally detected by fine mapping each fractionated into two or more QTL at higher resolution. A total of 34 QTL were detected across all traits, with 14% exhibiting significant QTL × environment interactions (QTL × E). QTL for many traits were co-located, suggesting either pleiotropic effects or tight linkage among genes controlling these traits. Recombination in the pericentromeric region of the introgression between markers TG147 and At4g10050 was suppressed to approximately 29.7 Mbp per cM, relative to the genomewide average of 750 kbp per cM. The genetic architecture of many of the horticultural and P. infestans resistance traits that mapped within this chromosome 11 S. habrochaites region is complex. Complicating factors included fractionation of QTL, pleiotropy or tight linkage of QTL for multiple traits, pericentromeric chromosomal location(s), and/or QTL × E. High-resolution mapping of QTL in this region would be needed to determine which specific target QTL could be useful in breeding cultivated tomato.
doi:10.1534/g3.114.014654
PMCID: PMC4321030  PMID: 25504736
tomato; Solanum lycopersicum; introgression; QTL mapping; linkage drag; late blight disease
18.  Meta-analysis of grain yield QTL identified during agricultural drought in grasses showed consensus 
BMC Genomics  2011;12:319.
Background
In the last few years, efforts have been made to identify large effect QTL for grain yield under drought in rice. However, identification of most precise and consistent QTL across the environments and genetics backgrounds is essential for their successful use in Marker-assisted Selection. In this study, an attempt was made to locate consistent QTL regions associated with yield increase under drought by applying a genome-wide QTL meta-analysis approach.
Results
The integration of 15 maps resulted in a consensus map with 531 markers and a total map length of 1821 cM. Fifty-three yield QTL reported in 15 studies were projected on a consensus map and meta-analysis was performed. Fourteen meta-QTL were obtained on seven chromosomes. MQTL1.2, MQTL1.3, MQTL1.4, and MQTL12.1 were around 700 kb and corresponded to a reasonably small genetic distance of 1.8 to 5 cM and they are suitable for use in marker-assisted selection (MAS). The meta-QTL for grain yield under drought coincided with at least one of the meta-QTL identified for root and leaf morphology traits under drought in earlier reports. Validation of major-effect QTL on a panel of random drought-tolerant lines revealed the presence of at least one major QTL in each line. DTY12.1 was present in 85% of the lines, followed by DTY4.1 in 79% and DTY1.1 in 64% of the lines. Comparative genomics of meta-QTL with other cereals revealed that the homologous regions of MQTL1.4 and MQTL3.2 had QTL for grain yield under drought in maize, wheat, and barley respectively. The genes in the meta-QTL regions were analyzed by a comparative genomics approach and candidate genes were deduced for grain yield under drought. Three groups of genes such as stress-inducible genes, growth and development-related genes, and sugar transport-related genes were found in clusters in most of the meta-QTL.
Conclusions
Meta-QTL with small genetic and physical intervals could be useful in Marker-assisted selection individually and in combinations. Validation and comparative genomics of the major-effect QTL confirmed their consistency within and across the species. The shortlisted candidate genes can be cloned to unravel the molecular mechanism regulating grain yield under drought.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-319
PMCID: PMC3155843  PMID: 21679437
19.  Identification of genomic regions associated with feed efficiency in Nelore cattle 
BMC Genetics  2014;15(1):100.
Background
Feed efficiency is jointly determined by productivity and feed requirements, both of which are economically relevant traits in beef cattle production systems. The objective of this study was to identify genes/QTLs associated with components of feed efficiency in Nelore cattle using Illumina BovineHD BeadChip (770 k SNP) genotypes from 593 Nelore steers. The traits analyzed included: average daily gain (ADG), dry matter intake (DMI), feed-conversion ratio (FCR), feed efficiency (FE), residual feed intake (RFI), maintenance efficiency (ME), efficiency of gain (EG), partial efficiency of growth (PEG) and relative growth rate (RGR). The Bayes B analysis was completed with Gensel software parameterized to fit fewer markers than animals. Genomic windows containing all the SNP loci in each 1 Mb that accounted for more than 1.0% of genetic variance were considered as QTL region. Candidate genes within windows that explained more than 1% of genetic variance were selected by putative function based on DAVID and Gene Ontology.
Results
Thirty-six QTL (1-Mb SNP window) were identified on chromosomes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25 and 26 (UMD 3.1). The amount of genetic variance explained by individual QTL windows for feed efficiency traits ranged from 0.5% to 9.07%. Some of these QTL minimally overlapped with previously reported feed efficiency QTL for Bos taurus. The QTL regions described in this study harbor genes with biological functions related to metabolic processes, lipid and protein metabolism, generation of energy and growth. Among the positional candidate genes selected for feed efficiency are: HRH4, ALDH7A1, APOA2, LIN7C, CXADR, ADAM12 and MAP7.
Conclusions
Some genomic regions and some positional candidate genes reported in this study have not been previously reported for feed efficiency traits in Bos indicus. Comparison with published results indicates that different QTLs and genes may be involved in the control of feed efficiency traits in this Nelore cattle population, as compared to Bos taurus cattle.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12863-014-0100-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1186/s12863-014-0100-0
PMCID: PMC4198703  PMID: 25257854
Bos indicus; Candidate gene; Residual feed intake; Single nucleotide polymorphisms
20.  Impact of Natural Genetic Variation on Gene Expression Dynamics 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(6):e1003514.
DNA sequence variation causes changes in gene expression, which in turn has profound effects on cellular states. These variations affect tissue development and may ultimately lead to pathological phenotypes. A genetic locus containing a sequence variation that affects gene expression is called an “expression quantitative trait locus” (eQTL). Whereas the impact of cellular context on expression levels in general is well established, a lot less is known about the cell-state specificity of eQTL. Previous studies differed with respect to how “dynamic eQTL” were defined. Here, we propose a unified framework distinguishing static, conditional and dynamic eQTL and suggest strategies for mapping these eQTL classes. Further, we introduce a new approach to simultaneously infer eQTL from different cell types. By using murine mRNA expression data from four stages of hematopoiesis and 14 related cellular traits, we demonstrate that static, conditional and dynamic eQTL, although derived from the same expression data, represent functionally distinct types of eQTL. While static eQTL affect generic cellular processes, non-static eQTL are more often involved in hematopoiesis and immune response. Our analysis revealed substantial effects of individual genetic variation on cell type-specific expression regulation. Among a total number of 3,941 eQTL we detected 2,729 static eQTL, 1,187 eQTL were conditionally active in one or several cell types, and 70 eQTL affected expression changes during cell type transitions. We also found evidence for feedback control mechanisms reverting the effect of an eQTL specifically in certain cell types. Loci correlated with hematological traits were enriched for conditional eQTL, thus, demonstrating the importance of conditional eQTL for understanding molecular mechanisms underlying physiological trait variation. The classification proposed here has the potential to streamline and unify future analysis of conditional and dynamic eQTL as well as many other kinds of QTL data.
Author Summary
Complex physiological traits are affected through subtle changes of molecular traits like gene expression in the relevant tissues, which in turn are caused by genetic variation. A genetic locus containing a sequence variation affecting gene expression is called an expression quantitative trait locus (eQTL). Understanding the tissue and cell type specificity of eQTL effects is essential for revealing the molecular mechanisms underlying disease phenotypes. However, so far the cell-state dependence of eQTL is poorly understood. In order to systematically assess the importance of cell state-specific eQTL, we propose to distinguish static, conditional and dynamic eQTL and suggest strategies for mapping these eQTL classes. We applied our framework to mouse gene expression data from four hematopoietic stages and related cellular traits. The different eQTL classes, although derived from the same expression data, represent functionally distinct types of eQTL. Importantly, conditional eQTL are well correlated with relevant hematological traits. These findings emphasize the condition specificity of many regulatory relationships, even if the conditions under study are related. This calls for due caution when transferring conclusions about regulatory mechanisms across cell types or tissues. The proposed classification will also help to unravel dynamic behaviors in many other kinds of QTL data.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003514
PMCID: PMC3674999  PMID: 23754949
21.  Serious limitations of the QTL/Microarray approach for QTL gene discovery 
BMC Biology  2010;8:96.
Background
It has been proposed that the use of gene expression microarrays in nonrecombinant parental or congenic strains can accelerate the process of isolating individual genes underlying quantitative trait loci (QTL). However, the effectiveness of this approach has not been assessed.
Results
Thirty-seven studies that have implemented the QTL/microarray approach in rodents were reviewed. About 30% of studies showed enrichment for QTL candidates, mostly in comparisons between congenic and background strains. Three studies led to the identification of an underlying QTL gene. To complement the literature results, a microarray experiment was performed using three mouse congenic strains isolating the effects of at least 25 biometric QTL. Results show that genes in the congenic donor regions were preferentially selected. However, within donor regions, the distribution of differentially expressed genes was homogeneous once gene density was accounted for. Genes within identical-by-descent (IBD) regions were less likely to be differentially expressed in chromosome 2, but not in chromosomes 11 and 17. Furthermore, expression of QTL regulated in cis (cis eQTL) showed higher expression in the background genotype, which was partially explained by the presence of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP).
Conclusions
The literature shows limited successes from the QTL/microarray approach to identify QTL genes. Our own results from microarray profiling of three congenic strains revealed a strong tendency to select cis-eQTL over trans-eQTL. IBD regions had little effect on rate of differential expression, and we provide several reasons why IBD should not be used to discard eQTL candidates. In addition, mismatch probes produced false cis-eQTL that could not be completely removed with the current strains genotypes and low probe density microarrays. The reviewed studies did not account for lack of coverage from the platforms used and therefore removed genes that were not tested. Together, our results explain the tendency to report QTL candidates as differentially expressed and indicate that the utility of the QTL/microarray as currently implemented is limited. Alternatives are proposed that make use of microarray data from multiple experiments to overcome the outlined limitations.
doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-96
PMCID: PMC2919467  PMID: 20624276
22.  Growth-related quantitative trait loci in domestic and wild rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) 
BMC Genetics  2010;11:63.
Background
Somatic growth is a complex process that involves the action and interaction of genes and environment. A number of quantitative trait loci (QTL) previously identified for body weight and condition factor in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), and two other salmonid species, were used to further investigate the genetic architecture of growth-influencing genes in this species. Relationships among previously mapped candidate genes for growth and their co-localization to identified QTL regions are reported. Furthermore, using a comparative genomic analysis of syntenic rainbow trout linkage group clusters to their homologous regions within model teleost species such as zebrafish, stickleback and medaka, inferences were made regarding additional possible candidate genes underlying identified QTL regions.
Results
Body weight (BW) QTL were detected on the majority of rainbow trout linkage groups across 10 parents from 3 strains. However, only 10 linkage groups (i.e., RT-3, -6, -8, -9, -10, -12, -13, -22, -24, -27) possessed QTL regions with chromosome-wide or genome-wide effects across multiple parents. Fewer QTL for condition factor (K) were identified and only six instances of co-localization across families were detected (i.e. RT-9, -15, -16, -23, -27, -31 and RT-2/9 homeologs). Of note, both BW and K QTL co-localize on RT-9 and RT-27. The incidence of epistatic interaction across genomic regions within different female backgrounds was also examined, and although evidence for interaction effects within certain QTL regions were evident, these interactions were few in number and statistically weak. Of interest, however, was the fact that these predominantly occurred within K QTL regions. Currently mapped growth candidate genes are largely congruent with the identified QTL regions. More QTL were detected in male, compared to female parents, with the greatest number evident in an F1 male parent derived from an intercross between domesticated and wild strain of rainbow trout which differed strongly in growth rate.
Conclusions
Strain background influences the degree to which QTL effects are evident for growth-related genes. The process of domestication (which primarily selects faster growing fish) may largely reduce the genetic influences on growth-specific phenotypic variation. Although heritabilities have been reported to be relatively high for both BW and K growth traits, the genetic architecture of K phenotypic variation appears less defined (i.e., fewer major contributing QTL regions were identified compared with BW QTL regions).
doi:10.1186/1471-2156-11-63
PMCID: PMC2914766  PMID: 20609225
23.  Construction of a high-density genetic map and QTLs mapping for sugars and acids in grape berries 
BMC Plant Biology  2015;15:28.
Background
QTLs controlling individual sugars and acids (fructose, glucose, malic acid and tartaric acid) in grape berries have not yet been identified. The present study aimed to construct a high-density, high-quality genetic map of a winemaking grape cross with a complex parentage (V. vinifera × V. amurensis) × ((V. labrusca × V. riparia) × V. vinifera), using next-generation restriction site-associated DNA sequencing, and then to identify loci related to phenotypic variability over three years.
Results
In total, 1 826 SNP-based markers were developed. Of these, 621 markers were assembled into 19 linkage groups (LGs) for the maternal map, 696 for the paternal map, and 1 254 for the integrated map. Markers showed good linear agreement on most chromosomes between our genetic maps and the previously published V. vinifera reference sequence. However marker order was different in some chromosome regions, indicating both conservation and variation within the genome. Despite the identification of a range of QTLs controlling the traits of interest, these QTLs explained a relatively small percentage of the observed phenotypic variance. Although they exhibited a large degree of instability from year to year, QTLs were identified for all traits but tartaric acid and titratable acidity in the three years of the study; however only the QTLs for malic acid and β ratio (tartaric acid-to-malic acid ratio) were stable in two years. QTLs related to sugars were located within ten LGs (01, 02, 03, 04, 07, 09, 11, 14, 17, 18), and those related to acids within three LGs (06, 13, 18). Overlapping QTLs in LG14 were observed for fructose, glucose and total sugar. Malic acid, total acid and β ratio each had several QTLs in LG18, and malic acid also had a QTL in LG06. A set of 10 genes underlying these QTLs may be involved in determining the malic acid content of berries.
Conclusion
The genetic map constructed in this study is potentially a high-density, high-quality map, which could be used for QTL detection, genome comparison, and sequence assembly. It may also serve to broaden our understanding of the grape genome.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12870-015-0428-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1186/s12870-015-0428-2
PMCID: PMC4329212  PMID: 25644551
Berry quality; Genetic map; Next-generation sequencing (NGS); QTL analysis; Quantitative trait loci; Restriction-site associated DNA (RAD); Vitis
24.  A gene frequency model for QTL mapping using Bayesian inference 
Background
Information for mapping of quantitative trait loci (QTL) comes from two sources: linkage disequilibrium (non-random association of allele states) and cosegregation (non-random association of allele origin). Information from LD can be captured by modeling conditional means and variances at the QTL given marker information. Similarly, information from cosegregation can be captured by modeling conditional covariances. Here, we consider a Bayesian model based on gene frequency (BGF) where both conditional means and variances are modeled as a function of the conditional gene frequencies at the QTL. The parameters in this model include these gene frequencies, additive effect of the QTL, its location, and the residual variance. Bayesian methodology was used to estimate these parameters. The priors used were: logit-normal for gene frequencies, normal for the additive effect, uniform for location, and inverse chi-square for the residual variance. Computer simulation was used to compare the power to detect and accuracy to map QTL by this method with those from least squares analysis using a regression model (LSR).
Results
To simplify the analysis, data from unrelated individuals in a purebred population were simulated, where only LD information contributes to map the QTL. LD was simulated in a chromosomal segment of 1 cM with one QTL by random mating in a population of size 500 for 1000 generations and in a population of size 100 for 50 generations. The comparison was studied under a range of conditions, which included SNP density of 0.1, 0.05 or 0.02 cM, sample size of 500 or 1000, and phenotypic variance explained by QTL of 2 or 5%. Both 1 and 2-SNP models were considered. Power to detect the QTL for the BGF, ranged from 0.4 to 0.99, and close or equal to the power of the regression using least squares (LSR). Precision to map QTL position of BGF, quantified by the mean absolute error, ranged from 0.11 to 0.21 cM for BGF, and was better than the precision of LSR, which ranged from 0.12 to 0.25 cM.
Conclusions
In conclusion given a high SNP density, the gene frequency model can be used to map QTL with considerable accuracy even within a 1 cM region.
doi:10.1186/1297-9686-42-21
PMCID: PMC2901203  PMID: 20540762
25.  Multibreed genome wide association can improve precision of mapping causative variants underlying milk production in dairy cattle 
BMC Genomics  2014;15:62.
Background
Genome wide association studies (GWAS) in most cattle breeds result in large genomic intervals of significant associations making it difficult to identify causal mutations. This is due to the extensive, low-level linkage disequilibrium within a cattle breed. As there is less linkage disequilibrium across breeds, multibreed GWAS may improve precision of causal variant mapping. Here we test this hypothesis in a Holstein and Jersey cattle data set with 17,925 individuals with records for production and functional traits and 632,003 SNP markers.
Results
By using a cross validation strategy within the Holstein and Jersey data sets, we were able to identify and confirm a large number of QTL. As expected, the precision of mapping these QTL within the breeds was limited. In the multibreed analysis, we found that many loci were not segregating in both breeds. This was partly an artefact of power of the experiments, with the number of QTL shared between the breeds generally increasing with trait heritability. False discovery rates suggest that the multibreed analysis was less powerful than between breed analyses, in terms of how much genetic variance was explained by the detected QTL. However, the multibreed analysis could more accurately pinpoint the location of the well-described mutations affecting milk production such as DGAT1. Further, the significant SNP in the multibreed analysis were significantly enriched in genes regions, to a considerably greater extent than was observed in the single breed analyses. In addition, we have refined QTL on BTA5 and BTA19 to very small intervals and identified a small number of potential candidate genes in these, as well as in a number of other regions.
Conclusion
Where QTL are segregating across breed, multibreed GWAS can refine these to reasonably small genomic intervals. However, such QTL appear to represent only a fraction of the genetic variation. Our results suggest a significant proportion of QTL affecting milk production segregate within rather than across breeds, at least for Holstein and Jersey cattle.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-62
PMCID: PMC3905911  PMID: 24456127
Multibreed analysis; Genomic selection; Dairy cattle; Single nucleotide polymorphism

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