Open Access Research article

The mQTL hotspot on linkage group 16 for phenolic compounds in apple fruits is probably the result of a leucoanthocyanidin reductase gene at that locus

Sabaz Ali Khan14, Jan G Schaart1, Jules Beekwilder2, Andrew C Allan3, Yury M Tikunov1, Evert Jacobsen1 and Henk J Schouten1*

Author Affiliations

1 Wageningen UR Plant Breeding, P.O. Box 16, Wageningen, 6700 AA, The Netherlands

2 Wageningen University and Research Centre, Plant Research International, Business Unit Bioscience, P.O. Box 16, Wageningen, 6700 AA, The Netherlands

3 New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research Limited, Mt Albert Research Centre, Auckland, 1025, New Zealand

4 Present address: Department of Environmental Sciences, COMSAT Institute of Information Technology, Abbottabad, Postal code 22060, Pakistan

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:618  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-618

Published: 2 November 2012



Our previous study on ripe apples from a progeny of a cross between the apple cultivars ‘Prima’ and ‘Fiesta’ showed a hotspot of mQTLs for phenolic compounds at the top of LG16, both in peel and in flesh tissues. In order to find the underlying gene(s) of this mQTL hotspot, we investigated the expression profiles of structural and putative transcription factor genes of the phenylpropanoid and flavonoid pathways during different stages of fruit development in progeny genotypes.


Only the structural gene leucoanthocyanidin reductase (MdLAR1) showed a significant correlation between transcript abundance and content of metabolites that mapped on the mQTL hotspot. This gene is located on LG16 in the mQTL hotspot. Progeny that had inherited one or two copies of the dominant MdLAR1 alleles (Mm, MM) showed a 4.4- and 11.8-fold higher expression level of MdLAR1 respectively, compared to the progeny that had inherited the recessive alleles (mm). This higher expression was associated with a four-fold increase of procyanidin dimer II as one representative metabolite that mapped in the mQTL hotspot. Although expression level of several structural genes were correlated with expression of other structural genes and with some MYB and bHLH transcription factor genes, only expression of MdLAR1 was correlated with metabolites that mapped at the mQTL hotspot. MdLAR1 is the only candidate gene that can explain the mQTL for procyanidins and flavan-3-ols. However, mQTLs for other phenylpropanoids such as phenolic esters, dihydrochalcones and flavonols, that appear to map at the same locus, have so far not been considered to be dependent on LAR, as their biosynthesis does not involve LAR activity. An explanation for this phenomenon is discussed.


Transcript abundances and genomic positions indicate that the mQTL hotspot for phenolic compounds at the top of LG16 is controlled by the MdLAR1 gene. The dominant allele of the MdLAR1 gene, causing increased content of metabolites that are potentially health beneficial, could be used in marker assisted selection of current apple breeding programs and for cisgenesis.

Phenylpropanoid pathway; Flavonoid pathway; Transcript abundance; Apple fruits; Phenolic compounds; Leucoanthocyanidin reductase gene