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Genome Res. 2012 Aug;22(8):1549-57. doi: 10.1101/gr.135582.111. Epub 2012 May 15.

Dissection of complex adult traits in a mouse synthetic population.

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  • 1Department of Human Genetics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.


Finding the causative genetic variations that underlie complex adult traits is a significant experimental challenge. The unbiased search strategy of genome-wide association (GWAS) has been used extensively in recent human population studies. These efforts, however, typically find only a minor fraction of the genetic loci that are predicted to affect variation. As an experimental model for the analysis of adult polygenic traits, we measured a mouse population for multiple phenotypes and conducted a genome-wide search for effector loci. Complex adult phenotypes, related to body size and bone structure, were measured as component phenotypes, and each subphenotype was associated with a genomic spectrum of candidate effector loci. The strategy successfully detected several loci for the phenotypes, at genome-wide significance, using a single, modest-sized population (N = 505). The effector loci each explain 2%-10% of the measured trait variation and, taken together, the loci can account for over 25% of a trait's total population variation. A replicate population (N = 378) was used to confirm initially observed loci for one trait (femur length), and, when the two groups were merged, the combined population demonstrated increased power to detect loci. In contrast to human population studies, our mouse genome-wide searches find loci that individually explain a larger fraction of the observed variation. Also, the additive effects of our detected mouse loci more closely match the predicted genetic component of variation. The genetic loci discovered are logical candidates for components of the genetic networks having evolutionary conservation with human biology.

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