Thoroughbred horses have been selected for traits contributing to speed and stamina for centuries. It is widely recognized that inherited variation in physical and physiological characteristics is responsible for variation in individual aptitude for race distance, and that muscle phenotypes in particular are important.
A genome-wide SNP-association study for optimum racing distance was performed using the EquineSNP50 Bead Chip genotyping array in a cohort of n = 118 elite Thoroughbred racehorses divergent for race distance aptitude. In a cohort-based association test we evaluated genotypic variation at 40,977 SNPs between horses suited to short distance (≤ 8 f) and middle-long distance (> 8 f) races. The most significant SNP was located on chromosome 18: BIEC2-417495 ~690 kb from the gene encoding myostatin ( MSTN) [ P unadj. = 6.96 × 10 -6]. Considering best race distance as a quantitative phenotype, a peak of association on chromosome 18 (chr18:65809482-67545806) comprising eight SNPs encompassing a 1.7 Mb region was observed. Again, similar to the cohort-based analysis, the most significant SNP was BIEC2-417495 ( P unadj. = 1.61 × 10 -9; P Bonf. = 6.58 × 10 -5). In a candidate gene study we have previously reported a SNP (g.66493737C>T) in MSTN associated with best race distance in Thoroughbreds; however, its functional and genome-wide relevance were uncertain. Additional re-sequencing in the flanking regions of the MSTN gene revealed four novel 3' UTR SNPs and a 227 bp SINE insertion polymorphism in the 5' UTR promoter sequence. Linkage disequilibrium was highest between g.66493737C>T and BIEC2-417495 ( r 2 = 0.86).
Comparative association tests consistently demonstrated the g.66493737C>T SNP as the superior variant in the prediction of distance aptitude in racehorses (g.66493737C>T, P = 1.02 × 10 -10; BIEC2-417495, P unadj. = 1.61 × 10 -9). Functional investigations will be required to determine whether this polymorphism affects putative transcription-factor binding and gives rise to variation in gene and protein expression. Nonetheless, this study demonstrates that the g.66493737C>T SNP provides the most powerful genetic marker for prediction of race distance aptitude in Thoroughbreds.