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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Genomic variation in the vomeronasal receptor gene repertoires of inbred mice

Elizabeth H Wynn, Gabriela Sánchez-Andrade, Keren J Carss and Darren W Logan*

Author Affiliations

Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton, Cambridge, UK

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:415  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-415

Published: 21 August 2012

Abstract

Background

Vomeronasal receptors (VRs), expressed in sensory neurons of the vomeronasal organ, are thought to bind pheromones and mediate innate behaviours. The mouse reference genome has over 360 functional VRs arranged in highly homologous clusters, but the vast majority are of unknown function. Differences in these receptors within and between closely related species of mice are likely to underpin a range of behavioural responses. To investigate these differences, we interrogated the VR gene repertoire from 17 inbred strains of mice using massively parallel sequencing.

Results

Approximately half of the 6222 VR genes that we investigated could be successfully resolved, and those that were unambiguously mapped resulted in an extremely accurate dataset. Collectively VRs have over twice the coding sequence variation of the genome average; but we identify striking non-random distribution of these variants within and between genes, clusters, clades and functional classes of VRs. We show that functional VR gene repertoires differ considerably between different Mus subspecies and species, suggesting these receptors may play a role in mediating behavioural adaptations. Finally, we provide evidence that widely-used, highly inbred laboratory-derived strains have a greatly reduced, but not entirely redundant capacity for differential pheromone-mediated behaviours.

Conclusions

Together our results suggest that the unusually variable VR repertoires of mice have a significant role in encoding differences in olfactory-mediated responses and behaviours. Our dataset has expanded over nine fold the known number of mouse VR alleles, and will enable mechanistic analyses into the genetics of innate behavioural differences in mice.

Keywords:
Vomeronasal; Receptor; Olfaction; Pheromone; Behaviour; Genome sequencing; Single nucleotide polymorphism; Mouse