SNP-based heritability and genetic architecture of tarsal osteochondrosis in North American Standardbred horses

Anim Genet. 2018 Oct 24. [Epub ahead of print]

Osteochondrosis is a common developmental orthopedic disease characterized by a failure of endochondral ossification. Standardbred horses are recognized as being predisposed to tarsal osteochondrosis. Prior heritability estimates for tarsal osteochondrosis in European Standardbreds and related trotting breeds have been based on pedigree data and range from 17-29%.

Here, we report on genetic architecture and heritability based on high-density genotyping data in a cohort of North American Standardbreds (n = 479) stringently phenotyped for tarsal osteochondrosis. Whole-genome array genotyping data were imputed to ~2 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). SNP-based heritability of osteochondrosis in this population was explained by 2326 SNPs. The majority of these SNPs (86.6%) had small effects, whereas fewer SNPs had moderate or large effects (10% and 2.9% respectively), which is consistent with a polygenic/complex disease. Heritability was estimated at 0.24 ± 0.16 using two methods of restricted maximum likelihood analysis, as implemented in gcta (with and without a weighted relatedness matrix) and ldak software.

Estimates were validated using bootstrapping. Heritability estimates were within the range previously reported and suggest that osteochondrosis is moderately heritable but that a significant portion of disease risk is due to environmental factors and/or genotype × environment interactions.

Future identification of the genes/variants that have the most impact on disease risk may allow early recognition of high-risk individuals.