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Open Access Research article

A comparative assessment of mandible shape in a consomic strain panel of the house mouse (Mus musculus) - implications for epistasis and evolvability of quantitative traits

Louis Boell1, Sona Gregorova2, Jiri Forejt2 and Diethard Tautz1*

Author affiliations

1 Max-Planck Institut für Evolutionsbiologie, August-Thienemannstrasse 2, 24306 Plön, Germany

2 Institute of Molecular Genetics, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, 14220 Prague, Czech Republic

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:309  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-309

Published: 19 October 2011



Expectations of repeatedly finding associations between given genes and phenotypes have been borne out by studies of parallel evolution, especially for traits involving absence or presence of characters. However, it has rarely been asked whether the genetic basis of quantitative trait variation is conserved at the intra- or even at the interspecific level. This question is especially relevant for shape, where the high dimensionality of variation seems to require a highly complex genetic architecture involving many genes.


We analyse here the genetic effects of chromosome substitution strains carrying M. m. musculus chromosomes in a largely M. m. domesticus background on mandible shape and compare them to the results of previously published QTL mapping data between M. m. domesticus strains. We find that the distribution of genetic effects and effect sizes across the genome is consistent between the studies, while the specific shape changes associated with the chromosomes are different. We find also that the sum of the effects from the different M. m. musculus chromosomes is very different from the shape of the strain from which they were derived, as well as all known wild type shapes.


Our results suggest that the relative chromosome-wide effect sizes are comparable between the long separated subspecies M. m. domesticus and M. m. musculus, hinting at a relative stability of genes involved in this complex trait. However, the absolute effect sizes and the effect directions may be allele-dependent, or are context dependent, i.e. epistatic interactions appear to play an important role in controlling shape.