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Multiple secretoglobin 1A1 genes are differentially expressed in horses

Olivier Côté1, Brandon N Lillie1, Michael Anthony Hayes1, Mary Ellen Clark1, Laura van den Bosch1, Paula Katavolos13, Laurent Viel2 and Dorothee Bienzle1*

Author Affiliations

1 Departments of Pathobiology, University of Guelph, Stone Road, Guelph, ON, Canada

2 Departments of Clinical Studies, University of Guelph, Stone Road, Guelph, ON, Canada

3 Present address: Genentech, South San Francisco, CA, 94080, USA

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:712  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-712

Published: 19 December 2012



Secretoglobin 1A1 (SCGB 1A1), also called Clara cell secretory protein, is the most abundantly secreted protein of the airway. The SCGB1A1 gene has been characterized in mammals as a single copy in the genome. However, analysis of the equine genome suggested that horses might have multiple SCGB1A1 gene copies. Non-ciliated lung epithelial cells produce SCGB 1A1 during inhalation of noxious substances to counter airway inflammation. Airway fluid and lung tissue of horses with recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), a chronic inflammatory lung disease affecting mature horses similar to environmentally induced asthma of humans, have reduced total SCGB 1A1 concentration. Herein, we investigated whether horses have distinct expressed SCGB1A1 genes; whether the transcripts are differentially expressed in tissues and in inflammatory lung disease; and whether there is cell specific protein expression in tissues.


We identified three SCGB1A1 gene copies on equine chromosome 12, contained within a 512-kilobase region. Bioinformatic analysis showed that SCGB1A1 genes differ from each other by 8 to 10 nucleotides, and that they code for different proteins. Transcripts were detected for SCGB1A1 and SCGB1A1A, but not for SCGB1A1P. The SCGB1A1P gene had most inter-individual variability and contained a non-sense mutation in many animals, suggesting that SCGB1A1P has evolved into a pseudogene. Analysis of SCGB1A1 and SCGB1A1A sequences by endpoint-limiting dilution PCR identified a consistent difference affecting 3 bp within exon 2, which served as a gene-specific “signature”. Assessment of gene- and organ-specific expression by semiquantitative RT-PCR of 33 tissues showed strong expression of SCGB1A1 and SCGB1A1A in lung, uterus, Fallopian tube and mammary gland, which correlated with detection of SCGB 1A1 protein by immunohistochemistry. Significantly altered expression of the ratio of SCGB1A1A to SCGB1A1 was detected in RAO-affected animals compared to controls, suggesting different roles for SCGB 1A1 and SCGB 1A1A in this inflammatory condition.


This is the first report of three SCGB1A1 genes in a mammal. The two expressed genes code for proteins predicted to differ in function. Alterations in the gene expression ratio in RAO suggest cell and tissue specific regulation and functions. These findings may be important for understanding of lung and reproductive conditions.

CC10; Clara cell; Clara cell secretory protein; End-point limiting dilution PCR; Horse; Immunohistochemistry; Long-range PCR; Recurrent airway obstruction; Uteroglobin