A multi-trait meta-analysis with imputed sequence variants reveals twelve QTL for mammary gland morphology in Fleckvieh cattle
Background: The availability of whole-genome sequence data from key ancestors provides an exhaustive catalogue of polymorphic sites segregating within and across cattle breeds. Sequence variants from key ancestors can be imputed in animals that have been genotyped using medium- and high-density genotyping arrays. Association analysis with imputed sequences, particularly if applied to multiple traits simultaneously, is a very powerful approach to revealing candidate causal variants underlying complex phenotypes. Results: We used whole-genome sequence data from 157 key ancestors of the German Fleckvieh population to impute 20 561 798 sequence variants in 10 363 animals that had (partly imputed) array-derived genotypes at 634 109 SNP. The imputed sequence data were enriched for rare variants. Association studies with imputed sequence variants were performed using seven correlated udder conformation traits as response variables. The calculation of an approximate multi-trait test statistic enabled us to detect twelve major QTL (P<2.97 x 10-9) controlling different aspects of mammary gland morphology. Imputed sequence variants were the most significantly associated at eleven QTL, whereas the top association signal at a QTL on BTA14 resulted from an array-derived variant. Seven QTL were associated with multiple phenotypes. Most QTL were located in non-coding regions of the genome in close neighborhood, however, to plausible candidate genes for mammary gland morphology (SP5, GC, NPFFR2, CRIM1, RXFP2, TBX5, RBM19, ADAM12). Conclusions: Association analysis with imputed sequence variants allows QTL characterization at maximum resolution. Multi-trait approaches can reveal QTL that are not detected in single-trait association studies. Most QTL for udder conformation traits were located in non-coding elements of the genome suggesting regulatory mutations to be the major determinants of variation in mammary gland morphology in cattle.