Most mammals possess a tail, humans and the Great Apes being notable exceptions. One approach to understanding the mechanisms and evolutionary forces influencing development of a tail is to identify the genetic factors that influence extreme tail length variation within a species. In mice, the Tailless locus has proven to be complex, with evidence of multiple different genes and mutations with pleiotropic effects on tail length, fertility, embryogenesis, male transmission ratio, and meiotic recombination. Five cat breeds have abnormal tail length phenotypes: the American Bobtail, the Manx, the Pixie-Bob, the Kurilian Bobtail, and the Japanese Bobtail. We sequenced the T gene in several independent lineages of Manx cats from both the US and the Isle of Man and identified three 1-bp deletions and one duplication/deletion, each predicted to cause a frameshift that leads to premature termination and truncation of the carboxy terminal end of the Brachyury protein. Ninety-five percent of Manx cats with short-tail phenotypes were heterozygous for T mutations, mutant alleles appeared to be largely lineage-specific, and a maximum LOD score of 6.21 with T was obtained at a recombination fraction (Θ) of 0.00. One mutant T allele was shared with American Bobtails and Pixie-Bobs; both breeds developed more recently in the US. The ability of mutant Brachyury protein to activate transcription of a downstream target was substantially lower than wild-type protein. Collectively, these results suggest that haploinsufficiency of Brachyury is one mechanism underlying variable tail length in domesticated cats.
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