A missense mutation in damage-specific DNA binding protein 2 is a genetic risk factor for ocular squamous cell carcinoma in Belgian horses

K. E. Knickelbein, Mary Utter, M. Singer-Berk, C. M. Reilly, A. B. Clode, T. R. Famula, T. M. Michau, Rebecca Bellone

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Background: Belgian horses are commonly affected with ocular squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the most common cancer of the equine eye. A missense mutation in damage-specific DNA binding protein 2 (DDB2 c.1013C>T, p.Thr338Met) has been established as a recessive genetic risk factor for ocular SCC in the Haflinger breed. A sample of Belgian horses with unknown SCC phenotype was shown to possess this variant at a similar frequency to the Haflinger breed. Retrospective studies indicate that chestnut coat colour may predispose to the development of SCC. Objectives: To determine if DDB2 c.1013C>T is a risk factor for ocular SCC in a strictly phenotyped sample of Belgian horses. To investigate associations between coat colour loci genotypes and ocular SCC. Study design: Retrospective and prospective case identification, genetic investigation. Methods: Genomic DNA was isolated from blood, hair or formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue from 25 Belgian horses with histologically confirmed ocular SCC and 18 unaffected Belgian horses. Association testing of 34 single nucleotide variants from 11 genomic loci and genotyping for DDB2 c.1013C>T and coat colour alleles were performed. Exons of DDB2 were sequenced in four cases and two controls. Associations were analysed by Chi-square or Fisher's exact tests and relative risk was calculated. Results: Homozygosity for DDB2 c.1013C>T was significantly associated with ocular SCC (P = 7.4 × 10 −7 ). Seventy-six per cent of affected horses were homozygous for the variant. Relative risk for homozygous horses developing SCC was 4.0 (P = 1.0 × 10 −4 ). Sequencing DDB2 did not identify a variant more concordant with disease phenotype. An association between disease and coat colour loci was not identified. Main limitations: Phenotyping was determined at a single timepoint. Each included horse genotyped as chestnut, so association with this MC1R variant could not be investigated. Conclusions: A missense variant, DDB2 c.1013C>T, p.Thr338Met, is a risk factor for ocular SCC in Belgian horses. A genetic risk test is commercially available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEquine veterinary journal
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019



  • cancer
  • conjunctiva
  • horse
  • limbus
  • ophthalmology
  • SCC
  • third eyelid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Equine

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