Lethal White Foal Syndrome is a disease associated with horse breeds that register white coat spotting patterns. Breedings between particular spotted horses, generally described as frame overo, produce some foals that, in contrast to their parents, are all white or nearly all white and die shortly after birth of severe intestinal blockage. These foals have aganglionosis characterized by a lack of submucosal and myenteric ganglia from the distal small intestine to the large intestine, similar to human Hirschsprung Disease. Some sporadic and familial cases of Hirschsprung Disease are due to mutations in the endothelin B receptor gene (EDNRB). In this study, we investigate the role of EDNRB in Lethal White Foal Syndrome. A cDNA for the wild-type horse endothelin-B receptor gene was cloned and sequenced. In three unrelated lethal white foals, the EDNRB gene contained a 2-bp nucleotide change leading to a missense mutation (I118K) in the first transmembrane domain of the receptor, a highly conserved region of this protein among different species. Seven additional unrelated lethal white foal samples were found to be homozygous for this mutation. No other homozygotes were identified in 138 samples analyzed, suggesting that homozygosity was restricted to lethal white foals. All (40/40) horses with the frame overo pattern (a distinct coat color pattern that is a subset of overo horses) that were tested were heterozygous for this allele, defining a heterozygous coat color phenotype for this mutation. Horses with tobiano markings included some carriers, indicating that tobiano is epistatic to frame overo. In addition, horses were identified that were carriers but had no recognized overo coat pattern phenotype, demonstrating the variable penetrance of the mutation. The test for this mutant allele can be utilized in all breeds where heterozygous animals may be unknowingly bred to each other including the Paint Horse, Pinto horse, Quarter Horse, Miniature Horse, and Thoroughbred.
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