Background: Hyperpigmentation of the visceral peritoneum (HVP) has recently garnered much attention in the poultry industry because of the possible risk to the health of affected animals and the damage it causes to the appearance of commercial chicken carcasses. However, the heritable characters of HVP remain unclear. The objective of this study was to investigate the genetic parameters of HVP by genome-wide association study (GWAS) in chickens.
Results: HVP was found to be influenced by genetic factors, with a heritability score of 0.33. HVP had positive genetic correlations with growth and carcass traits, such as leg muscle weight (rg = 0.34), but had negative genetic correlations with immune traits, such as the antibody response to Newcastle disease virus (rg = -0.42). The GWAS for HVP using 39,833 single nucleotide polymorphisms indicated the genetic factors associated with HVP displayed an additive effect rather than a dominance effect. In addition, we determined that three genomic regions, involving the 50.5-54.0 Mb region of chicken (Gallus gallus) chromosome 1 (GGA1), the 58.5-60.5 Mb region of GGA1, and the 10.5-12.0 Mb region of GGA20, were strongly associated (P < 6.28 × 10-7) with HVP in chickens. Variants in these regions explained >50% of additive genetic variance for HVP. This study also confirmed that expression of BMP7, which codes for a bone morphogenetic protein and is located in one of the candidate regions, was significantly higher in the visceral peritoneum of Huiyang Beard chickens with HVP than in that of chickens without pigmentation (P < 0.05).
Conclusions: HVP is a quantitative trait with moderate heritability. Genomic variants resulting in HVP were identified on GGA1 and GGA20, and expression of the BMP7 gene appears to be upregulated in HVP-affected chickens. Findings from this study should be used as a basis for further functional validation of candidate genes involved in HVP.