Background: Pinschers and other dogs with coat color dilution show a characteristic pigmentation phenotype. The fur colors are a lighter shade, e.g. silvery grey (blue) instead of black and a sandy color (Isabella fawn) instead of red or brown. In some dogs the coat color dilution is sometimes accompanied by hair loss and recurrent skin inflammation, the so called color dilution alopecia (CDA) or black hair follicular dysplasia (BHFD). In humans and mice a comparable pigmentation phenotype without any documented hair loss is caused by mutations within the melanophilin gene (MLPH).
Results: We sequenced the canine MLPH gene and performed a mutation analysis of the MLPH exons in 6 Doberman Pinschers and 5 German Pinschers. A total of 48 sequence variations was identified within and between the breeds. Three families of dogs showed co-segregation for at least one polymorphism in an MLPH exon and the dilute phenotype. No single polymorphism was identified in the coding sequences or at splice sites that is likely to be causative for the dilute phenotype of all dogs examined. In 18 German Pinschers a mutation in exon 7 (R199H) was consistently associated with the dilute phenotype. However, as this mutation was present in homozygous state in four dogs of other breeds with wildtype pigmentation, it seems unlikely that this mutation is truly causative for coat color dilution. In Doberman Pinschers as well as in Large Munsterlanders with BHFD, a set of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) around exon 2 was identified that show a highly significant association to the dilute phenotype.
Conclusion: This study provides evidence that coat color dilution is caused by one or more mutations within or near the MLPH gene in several dog breeds. The data on polymorphisms that are strongly associated with the dilute phenotype will allow the genetic testing of Pinschers to facilitate the breeding of dogs with defined coat colors and to select against Large Munsterlanders carrying BHFD.