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Whole genome sequencing in cats, identifies new models for blindness in AIPL1 and somite segmentation in HES7



The reduced cost and improved efficiency of whole genome sequencing (WGS) is drastically improving the development of cats as biomedical models. Persian cats are models for Leber's congenital amaurosis (LCA), the most severe and earliest onset form of visual impairment in humans. Cats with innocuous breed-defining traits, such as a bobbed tail, can also be models for somite segmentation and vertebral column development.


The first WGS in cats was conducted on a trio segregating for LCA and the bobbed tail abnormality. Variants were identified using FreeBayes and effects predicted using SnpEff. Variants within a known haplotype block for cat LCA and specific candidate genes for both phenotypes were prioritized by the predicted variant effect on the proteins and concordant segregation within the trio. The efficiency of WGS of a single trio of domestic cats was evaluated.


A stop gain was identified at position c.577C > T in cat AIPL1, a predicted p.Arg193*. A c.5A > G variant causing a p.V2A was identified in HES7. The variants segregated concordantly in a Persian - Japanese bobtail pedigree. Over 1700 cats from 40 different breeds and populations were genotyped for the AIPL1 variant, defining an allelic frequency in only Persian -related breeds of 1.15%. A sub-set of cats was genotyped for the HES7 variant, supporting the variant as private to the Japanese bobtail breed. Approximately 18 million SNPs were identified for application in cat research. The cat AIPL1 variant would have been considered a high priority variant for evaluation, regardless of a priori knowledge from previous genetic studies.


This study represents the first effort of the 99 Lives Cat Genome Sequencing Initiative to identify disease--causing variants in the domestic cat using WGS. The current cat reference assembly is efficient for gene and variant identification. However, as the feline variant database improves, development of cats as biomedical models for human disease will be more efficient, providing an alternative, large animal model for drug and gene therapy trials. Undiagnosed human patients with early-onset blindness should be screened for this AIPL1 variant. The HES7 variant should further calibrate the somite segmentation clock.

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