Open Access Research article

The "silver" Japanese quail and the MITF gene: causal mutation, associated traits and homology with the "blue" chicken plumage

Francis Minvielle1*, Bertrand Bed'hom1, Jean-Luc Coville1, Shin'ichi Ito2, Miho Inoue-Murayama3 and David Gourichon4

Author Affiliations

1 UMR 1313 INRA/AgroParisTech, Génétique animale et biologie intégrative GABI, F-78352, Jouy-en-Josas, France

2 Faculty of Applied Biological Sciences, Gifu University, Gifu 501-1193, Japan

3 Wildlife Research Center of Kyoto University, Kyoto 606-8203, Japan

4 UE 1295 INRA, PEAT, 37380 Nouzilly, France

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Genetics 2010, 11:15  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-11-15

Published: 25 February 2010



The MITF (microphthalmia-associated transcription factor) gene has been investigated in mice and various vertebrates but its variations and associated effects have not yet been explored much in birds. The present study describes the causal mutation B at the MITF gene responsible for the "silver" plumage colour in the Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica), and its associated effects on growth and body composition, and tests its allelism with the "blue" plumage colour mutation Bl in Gallus gallus.


The semi dominant B mutation results from a premature stop codon caused by a 2 bp deletion in exon 11 of MITF. Homozygous "white" (B/B) quail which have a white plumage also show a slightly lower growth, lower body temperature, smaller heart, and lighter pectoralis muscles but more abdominal adipose tissue than the recessive homozygous "wild-type" (+/+) and heterozygous "silver" (B/+) quail. Similar observations on cardiac and body growth were made on mice (Mus musculus) homozygous for mutations at MITF. The production of chicken-quail hybrids with a white plumage obtained by crossing Bl/+ chicken heterozygous for the blue mutation with B/B white quail indicated that the mutations were allelic.


The "silver" Japanese quail is an interesting model for the comparative study of the effects of MITF in birds and mammals. Further investigation using a chicken family segregating for the "blue" plumage and molecular data will be needed to confirm if the "blue" plumage in chicken results from a mutation in MITF.