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Novel mutations in the VKORC1 gene of wild rats and mice – a response to 50 years of selection pressure by warfarin?

Simone Rost1*, Hans-Joachim Pelz2, Sandra Menzel1, Alan D MacNicoll3, Vanina León4, Ki-Joon Song5, Thomas Jäkel6, Johannes Oldenburg7 and Clemens R Müller1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Human Genetics, University of Wuerzburg, Wuerzburg, Germany

2 Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants – Julius Kuehn-Institute, Vertebrate Research, Toppheideweg 88, 48161 Muenster, Germany

3 Central Science Laboratory, Sand Hutton, York, UK

4 Department of Ecology, Genetics and Evolution, Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences, Buenos Aires University, Buenos Aires, Argentina

5 Department of Microbiology, College of Medicine, Bank for Pathogenic viruses, Korea University, Seoul, Korea

6 GTZ Office Bangkok, 193/63 Lake Ratchada Bldg., 16th Floor, New Ratchadapisek Road, Bangkok 10110, Thailand

7 Institute of Experimental Haematology and Transfusion Medicine, University of Bonn, 53105 Bonn, Germany

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BMC Genetics 2009, 10:4  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-10-4

Published: 6 February 2009



Coumarin derivatives have been in world-wide use for rodent pest control for more than 50 years. Due to their retarded action as inhibitors of blood coagulation by repression of the vitamin K reductase (VKOR) activity, they are the rodenticides of choice against several species. Resistance to these compounds has been reported for rodent populations from many countries around the world and poses a considerable problem for efficacy of pest control.


In the present study, we have sequenced the VKORC1 genes of more than 250 rats and mice trapped in anticoagulant-exposed areas from four continents, and identified 18 novel and five published missense mutations, as well as eight neutral sequence variants, in a total of 178 animals. Mutagenesis in VKORC1 cDNA constructs and their recombinant expression revealed that these mutations reduced VKOR activities as compared to the wild-type protein. However, the in vitro enzyme assay used was not suited to convincingly demonstrate the warfarin resistance of all mutant proteins


Our results corroborate the VKORC1 gene as the main target for spontaneous mutations conferring warfarin resistance. The mechanism(s) of how mutations in the VKORC1 gene mediate insensitivity to coumarins in vivo has still to be elucidated.