A genome-wide association study reveals loci influencing height and other conformation traits in horses

PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37282. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037282. Epub 2012 May 16.


The molecular analysis of genes influencing human height has been notoriously difficult. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) for height in humans based on tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of samples so far revealed ∼200 loci for human height explaining only 20% of the heritability. In domestic animals isolated populations with a greatly reduced genetic heterogeneity facilitate a more efficient analysis of complex traits. We performed a genome-wide association study on 1,077 Franches-Montagnes (FM) horses using ∼40,000 SNPs. Our study revealed two QTL for height at withers on chromosomes 3 and 9. The association signal on chromosome 3 is close to the LCORL/NCAPG genes. The association signal on chromosome 9 is close to the ZFAT gene. Both loci have already been shown to influence height in humans. Interestingly, there are very large intergenic regions at the association signals. The two detected QTL together explain ∼18.2% of the heritable variation of height in horses. However, another large fraction of the variance for height in horses results from ECA 1 (11.0%), although the association analysis did not reveal significantly associated SNPs on this chromosome. The QTL region on ECA 3 associated with height at withers was also significantly associated with wither height, conformation of legs, ventral border of mandible, correctness of gaits, and expression of the head. The region on ECA 9 associated with height at withers was also associated with wither height, length of croup and length of back. In addition to these two QTL regions on ECA 3 and ECA 9 we detected another QTL on ECA 6 for correctness of gaits. Our study highlights the value of domestic animal populations for the genetic analysis of complex traits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Horses / anatomy & histology
  • Horses / genetics*
  • Male
  • Phenotype
  • Quantitative Trait Loci*