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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Maternal phylogenetic relationships and genetic variation among Arabian horse populations using whole mitochondrial DNA D-loop sequencing

Anas M Khanshour and Ernest Gus Cothran*

Author Affiliations

Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-4458, USA

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BMC Genetics 2013, 14:83  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-14-83

Published: 13 September 2013



Maternal inheritance is an essential point in Arabian horse population genetics and strains classification. The mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequencing is a highly informative tool to investigate maternal lineages. We sequenced the whole mtDNA D-loop of 251 Arabian horses to study the genetic diversity and phylogenetic relationships of Arabian populations and to examine the traditional strain classification system that depends on maternal family lines using native Arabian horses from the Middle East.


The variability in the upstream region of the D-loop revealed additional differences among the haplotypes that had identical sequences in the hypervariable region 1 (HVR1). While the American-Arabians showed relatively low diversity, the Syrian population was the most variable and contained a very rare and old haplogroup. The Middle Eastern horses had major genetic contributions to the Western horses and there was no clear pattern of differentiation among all tested populations. Our results also showed that several individuals from different strains shared a single haplotype, and individuals from a single strain were represented in clearly separated haplogroups.


The whole mtDNA D-loop sequence was more powerful for analysis of the maternal genetic diversity in the Arabian horses than using just the HVR1. Native populations from the Middle East, such as Syrians, could be suggested as a hot spot of genetic diversity and may help in understanding the evolution history of the Arabian horse breed. Most importantly, there was no evidence that the Arabian horse breed has clear subdivisions depending on the traditional maternal based strain classification system.

Syrian horse population; Genetic diversity; Arabian horse strains