A Point Mutation in a lincRNA Upstream of GDNF Is Associated to a Canine Insensitivity to Pain: A Spontaneous Model for Human Sensory Neuropathies

PLoS Genet. 2016 Dec 29;12(12):e1006482. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1006482. eCollection 2016 Dec.


Human Hereditary Sensory Autonomic Neuropathies (HSANs) are characterized by insensitivity to pain, sometimes combined with self-mutilation. Strikingly, several sporting dog breeds are particularly affected by such neuropathies. Clinical signs appear in young puppies and consist of acral analgesia, with or without sudden intense licking, biting and severe self-mutilation of the feet, whereas proprioception, motor abilities and spinal reflexes remain intact. Through a Genome Wide Association Study (GWAS) with 24 affected and 30 unaffected sporting dogs using the Canine HD 170K SNP array (Illumina), we identified a 1.8 Mb homozygous locus on canine chromosome 4 (adj. p-val = 2.5x10-6). Targeted high-throughput sequencing of this locus in 4 affected and 4 unaffected dogs identified 478 variants. Only one variant perfectly segregated with the expected recessive inheritance in 300 sporting dogs of known clinical status, while it was never present in 900 unaffected dogs from 130 other breeds. This variant, located 90 kb upstream of the GDNF gene, a highly relevant neurotrophic factor candidate gene, lies in a long intergenic non-coding RNAs (lincRNA), GDNF-AS. Using human comparative genomic analysis, we observed that the canine variant maps onto an enhancer element. Quantitative RT-PCR of dorsal root ganglia RNAs of affected dogs showed a significant decrease of both GDNF mRNA and GDNF-AS expression levels (respectively 60% and 80%), as compared to unaffected dogs. We thus performed gel shift assays (EMSA) that reveal that the canine variant significantly alters the binding of regulatory elements. Altogether, these results allowed the identification in dogs of GDNF as a relevant candidate for human HSAN and insensitivity to pain, but also shed light on the regulation of GDNF transcription. Finally, such results allow proposing these sporting dog breeds as natural models for clinical trials with a double benefit for human and veterinary medicine.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Dogs
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics*
  • Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathies / genetics*
  • Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathies / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Pain / genetics*
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain Insensitivity, Congenital / genetics*
  • Pain Insensitivity, Congenital / physiopathology
  • Point Mutation
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • RNA, Long Noncoding / genetics*


  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • RNA, Long Noncoding

Grants and funding

This study was supported by the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), the Brittany Region (France) (PhD funding for JP), the European Commission (FP7-LUPA, GA-201370), the Rosembloom Family and the Companion animal health fund from the Faculté de Médecine Vétérinaire, Université de Montréal, and the CRB-Anim infrastructure, ANR-11-INBS-0003, funded by the French National Research Agency in the frame of the ‘Investing for the Future’ program.The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.