A 12 kb multi-allelic copy number variation encompassing a GC gene enhancer is associated with mastitis resistance in dairy cattle
Clinical mastitis (CM) is an inflammatory disease occurring in the mammary glands of lactating cows. CM is under genetic control, and a prominent CM resistance QTL located on chromosome 6 was reported in various dairy cattle breeds. Nevertheless, the biological mechanism underpinning this QTL has been lacking. Herein, we mapped, fine-mapped, and discovered the putative causal variant underlying this CM resistance QTL in the Dutch dairy cattle population. We identified a ~12 kb multi-allelic
... number variant (CNV), that is in perfect linkage disequilibrium with a lead SNP, as a promising candidate variant. By implementing a fine-mapping and through expression QTL mapping, we showed that the group-specific component gene (GC), a gene encoding a vitamin D binding protein, is an excellent candidate causal gene for the QTL. The multiplicated alleles are associated with increased GC expression and low CM resistance. Ample evidence from functional genomics data supports the presence of an enhancer within this CNV, which would exert cis-regulatory effect on GC. We observed that strong positive selection swept the region near the CNV, and haplotypes associated with the multiplicated allele were strongly selected for. Moreover, the multiplicated allele showed pleiotropic effects for increased milk yield and reduced fertility, hinting that a shared underlying biology for these effects may revolve around the vitamin D pathway. These findings together suggest a putative causal variant of a CM resistance QTL, where a cis-regulatory element located within a CNV can alter gene expression and affect multiple economically important traits.