Whole-genome sequencing reveals a large deletion in the MITF gene in horses with white spotted coat colour and increased risk of deafness

Anim Genet. 2019 Apr;50(2):172-174. doi: 10.1111/age.12762. Epub 2019 Jan 15.


White spotting phenotypes in horses are highly valued in some breeds. They are quite variable and may range from the common white markings up to completely white horses. EDNRB, KIT, MITF, PAX3 and TRPM1 represent known candidate genes for white spotting phenotypes in horses. For the present study, we investigated an American Paint Horse family segregating a phenotype involving white spotting and blue eyes. Six of eight horses with the white-spotting phenotype were deaf. We obtained whole-genome sequence data from an affected horse and specifically searched for structural variants in the known candidate genes. This analysis revealed a heterozygous ~63-kb deletion spanning exons 6-9 of the MITF gene (chr16:21 503 211-21 566 617). We confirmed the breakpoints of the deletion by PCR and Sanger sequencing. PCR-based genotyping revealed that all eight available affected horses from the family carried the deletion. The finding of an MITF variant fits well with the syndromic phenotype involving both depigmentation and an increased risk for deafness and corresponds to human Waardenburg syndrome type 2A. Our findings will enable more precise genetic testing for depigmentation phenotypes in horses.

Keywords: Equus caballus; heterogeneity; leucism; melanocyte; pigmentation; splashed white; structural variant.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Color
  • Deafness / genetics
  • Deafness / veterinary*
  • Female
  • Gene Deletion*
  • Horse Diseases / genetics*
  • Horses / genetics*
  • Male
  • Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor / genetics*
  • Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor / metabolism
  • Pigmentation / genetics
  • Risk Factors
  • Whole Genome Sequencing / veterinary


  • Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor

Associated data

  • GENBANK/JN896378.1
  • GENBANK/AFH66983.1