Pigmentary switches in domestic animal species

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2003 Jun;994:331-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2003.tb03197.x.


Although homogeneous pigmentation usually is observed in wild animals, most domestic animal species display a wide variety of coat colors. In fur animals, the coat color is an important production trait, and in other species such as cattle and sheep, the coat color is a major breed characteristic. Variability in coat color is seen both within and between breeds, and makes domesticated species unique for studying gene function and gene regulation of loci affecting pigmentation. In several species, mutations in the MC1-R gene have been shown to cause the dominant expression of black pigment. In fox, alleles of both the agouti and the MC1-R gene could cause eumelanin synthesis. In addition, a nonepistatic interaction between MC1-R and agouti has been observed, resulting in several different coat color phenotypes expressing a mixture of red and black pigmentation. Also in cattle and sheep, amino acid substitutions within the MC1-R explain the dominant inheritance of black pigmentation. Unlike the constitutively activated MC1-R found in the Alaska silver fox, dominant variants of the MC1-R found in cattle and sheep seem to be completely dominant with no antagonizing effect of agouti. MC1-R variants with premature stop codons are widespread in several cattle populations, indicating that this well-conserved gene has no other fundamental function beside pigmentation. Other well-established breed characteristics include distinct coat color patterns in which the distribution of melanocytes, partly regulated by the c-kit gene, seems to be involved.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Hair Color / physiology*
  • Melanins / genetics
  • Melanins / metabolism
  • Mutation
  • Phylogeny
  • Receptors, Corticotropin / classification
  • Receptors, Corticotropin / genetics
  • Receptors, Corticotropin / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Melanocortin


  • Melanins
  • Receptors, Corticotropin
  • Receptors, Melanocortin