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Open Access Highly Accessed Commentary

Leading the way: finding genes for neurologic disease in dogs using genome-wide mRNA sequencing

Elaine A Ostrander* and Holly C Beale

Author Affiliations

NHGRI/National Institutes of Health, Building 50, Room 5351, 50 South Drive, Bethesda, MD, 20892, USA

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BMC Genetics 2012, 13:56  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-13-56

Published: 10 July 2012


Because of dogs' unique population structure, human-like disease biology, and advantageous genomic features, the canine system has risen dramatically in popularity as a tool for discovering disease alleles that have been difficult to find by studying human families or populations. To date, disease studies in dogs have primarily employed either linkage analysis, leveraging the typically large family size, or genome-wide association, which requires only modest-sized case and control groups in dogs. Both have been successful but, like most techniques, each requires a specific combination of time and money, and there are inherent problems associated with each. Here we review the first report of mRNA-Seq in the dog, a study that provides insights into the potential value of applying high-throughput sequencing to the study of genetic diseases in dogs.

Forman and colleagues apply high-throughput sequencing to a single case of canine neonatal cerebellar cortical degeneration. This implementation of whole genome mRNA sequencing, the first reported in dog, is additionally unusual due to the analysis: the data was used not to examine transcript levels or annotate genes, but as a form of target capture that revealed the sequence of transcripts of genes associated with ataxia in humans. This approach entails risks. It would fail if, for example, the relevant transcripts were not sufficiently expressed for genotyping or were not associated with ataxia in humans. But here it pays off handsomely, identifying a single frameshift mutation that segregates with the disease. This work sets the stage for similar studies that take advantage of recent advances in genomics while exploiting the historical background of dog breeds to identify disease-causing mutations.

Dogs; RNAseq; Cortical degeneration; Canines; Neurodegenerative diseases; SPTBN2 gene