Twenty-five thousand years of fluctuating selection on leopard complex spotting and congenital night blindness in horses

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2015 Jan 19;370(1660):20130386. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0386.


Leopard complex spotting is inherited by the incompletely dominant locus, LP, which also causes congenital stationary night blindness in homozygous horses. We investigated an associated single nucleotide polymorphism in the TRPM1 gene in 96 archaeological bones from 31 localities from Late Pleistocene (approx. 17 000 YBP) to medieval times. The first genetic evidence of LP spotting in Europe dates back to the Pleistocene. We tested for temporal changes in the LP associated allele frequency and estimated coefficients of selection by means of approximate Bayesian computation analyses. Our results show that at least some of the observed frequency changes are congruent with shifts in artificial selection pressure for the leopard complex spotting phenotype. In early domestic horses from Kirklareli-Kanligecit (Turkey) dating to 2700-2200 BC, a remarkably high number of leopard spotted horses (six of 10 individuals) was detected including one adult homozygote. However, LP seems to have largely disappeared during the late Bronze Age, suggesting selection against this phenotype in early domestic horses. During the Iron Age, LP reappeared, probably by reintroduction into the domestic gene pool from wild animals. This picture of alternating selective regimes might explain how genetic diversity was maintained in domestic animals despite selection for specific traits at different times.

Keywords: ancient DNA; coat colour; domestication, Equus; palaeogenetics; population.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Bayes Theorem
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA / history
  • DNA Mutational Analysis / veterinary
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • Europe
  • Eye Diseases, Hereditary / genetics
  • Eye Diseases, Hereditary / veterinary*
  • Fossils
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetic Diseases, X-Linked / genetics
  • Genetic Diseases, X-Linked / veterinary*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Hair Color / genetics*
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Horse Diseases / genetics*
  • Horse Diseases / history*
  • Horses
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Myopia / genetics
  • Myopia / veterinary*
  • Night Blindness / genetics
  • Night Blindness / veterinary*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • TRPM Cation Channels / genetics*


  • DNA Primers
  • TRPM Cation Channels
  • DNA

Supplementary concepts

  • Night blindness, congenital stationary