Deep congenic analysis identifies many strong, context-dependent QTLs, one of which, Slc35b4, regulates obesity and glucose homeostasis

Genome Res. 2011 Jul;21(7):1065-73. doi: 10.1101/gr.120741.111. Epub 2011 Apr 19.


Although central to many studies of phenotypic variation and disease susceptibility, characterizing the genetic architecture of complex traits has been unexpectedly difficult. For example, most of the susceptibility genes that contribute to highly heritable conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes (T2D) remain to be identified despite intensive study. We took advantage of mouse models of diet-induced metabolic disease in chromosome substitution strains (CSSs) both to characterize the genetic architecture of diet-induced obesity and glucose homeostasis and to test the feasibility of gene discovery. Beginning with a survey of CSSs, followed with genetic and phenotypic analysis of congenic, subcongenic, and subsubcongenic strains, we identified a remarkable number of closely linked, phenotypically heterogeneous quantitative trait loci (QTLs) on mouse chromosome 6 that have unexpectedly large phenotypic effects. Although fine-mapping reduced the genomic intervals and gene content of these QTLs over 3000-fold, the average phenotypic effect on body weight was reduced less than threefold, highlighting the "fractal" nature of genetic architecture in mice. Despite this genetic complexity, we found evidence for 14 QTLs in only 32 recombination events in less than 3000 mice, and with an average of four genes located within the three body weight QTLs in the subsubcongenic strains. For Obrq2a1, genetic and functional studies collectively identified the solute receptor Slc35b4 as a regulator of obesity, insulin resistance, and gluconeogenesis. This work demonstrated the unique power of CSSs as a platform for studying complex genetic traits and identifying QTLs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight / genetics
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Chromosomes, Mammalian / genetics
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / genetics
  • Diet
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gluconeogenesis / genetics
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods*
  • Homeostasis / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance / genetics
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Congenic
  • Models, Animal
  • Nucleotide Transport Proteins / genetics*
  • Nucleotide Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Obesity / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Quantitative Trait Loci*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • Nucleotide Transport Proteins
  • SLC35B4 protein, human
  • Glucose