The domestic dog is a robust model for studying the genetics of complex disease susceptibility. The strategies used to develop and propagate modern breeds have resulted in an elevated risk for specific diseases in particular breeds. One example is that of Standard Poodles (STPOs), who have increased risk for squamous cell carcinoma of the digit (SCCD), a locally aggressive cancer that causes lytic bone lesions, sometimes with multiple toe recurrence. However, only STPOs of dark coat color are at high risk; light colored STPOs are almost entirely unaffected, suggesting that interactions between multiple pathways are necessary for oncogenesis. We performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) on STPOs, comparing 31 SCCD cases to 34 unrelated black STPO controls. The peak SNP on canine chromosome 15 was statistically significant at the genome-wide level (Praw = 1.60×10−7; Pgenome = 0.0066). Additional mapping resolved the region to the KIT Ligand (KITLG) locus. Comparison of STPO cases to other at-risk breeds narrowed the locus to a 144.9-Kb region. Haplotype mapping among 84 STPO cases identified a minimal region of 28.3 Kb. A copy number variant (CNV) containing predicted enhancer elements was found to be strongly associated with SCCD in STPOs (P = 1.72×10−8). Light colored STPOs carry the CNV risk alleles at the same frequency as black STPOs, but are not susceptible to SCCD. A GWAS comparing 24 black and 24 light colored STPOs highlighted only the MC1R locus as significantly different between the two datasets, suggesting that a compensatory mutation within the MC1R locus likely protects light colored STPOs from disease. Our findings highlight a role for KITLG in SCCD susceptibility, as well as demonstrate that interactions between the KITLG and MC1R loci are potentially required for SCCD oncogenesis. These findings highlight how studies of breed-limited diseases are useful for disentangling multigene disorders.
Domesticated dogs offer a unique mechanism for disentangling complex genetic traits, such as cancer. Over 300 breeds exist worldwide, each selected for particular morphologic and behavioral traits. Unfortunately the breeding programs used to generate such diversity are associated with breed-specific increase in disease. Squamous cell carcinoma of the digit (SCCD) is a locally aggressive cancer that causes lytic bone lesions and, occasionally, death. Among the breeds with the highest risk is the Standard Poodle (STPO), where the disease is found only in dark-coated dogs. We show that the KITLG locus is highly associated with SCCD and that a 5.7-Kb copy number variant is likely causative for the disease when in an expanded form. Interestingly, light-colored STPO carry the putative causal variant at the same frequency as black STPOs, but are protected from SCCD. We show this is likely due to a compensatory mutation in the well-known coat color locus, MC1R. This work demonstrates the utility of dog breeds for understanding the genetic causes of complex diseases of interest to both human and animal health.