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Concept: Oculocutaneous albinism


BACKGROUND: The only known albino gorilla, named Snowflake, was a male wild born individual from Equatorial Guinea who lived at the Barcelona Zoo for almost 40 years. He was diagnosed with non-syndromic oculocutaneous albinism, i.e. white hair, light eyes, pink skin, photophobia and reduced visual acuity. Despite previous efforts to explain the genetic cause, this is still unknown. Here, we study the genetic cause of his albinism and making use of whole genome sequencing data we find a higher inbreeding coefficient compared to other gorillas. RESULTS: We successfully identified the causal genetic variant for Snowflake’s albinism, a non-synonymous single nucleotide variant located in a transmembrane region of SLC45A2. This transporter is known to be involved in oculocutaneous albinism type 4 (OCA4) in humans. We provide experimental evidence that shows that this amino acid replacement alters the membrane spanning capability of this transmembrane region. Finally, we provide a comprehensive study of genome-wide patterns of autozygogosity revealing that Snowflake’s parents were related, being this the first report of inbreeding in a wild born Western lowland gorilla. CONCLUSIONS: In this study we demonstrate how the use of whole genome sequencing can be extended to link genotype and phenotype in non-model organisms and it can be a powerful tool in conservation genetics (e.g., inbreeding and genetic diversity) with the expected decrease in sequencing cost.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genotype, Evolution, Population genetics, Oculocutaneous albinism, Western Lowland Gorilla


Albinism represents a group of genetic disorders with a broad spectrum of hypopigmentary phenotypes dependent on the genetic background of the patients. Oculocutaneous albinism (OCA) patients have little or no pigment in their eyes, skin and hair, whereas ocular albinism (OA) primarily presents the ocular symptoms, and the skin and hair color may vary from near normal to very fair. Mutations in genes directly or indirectly regulating melanin production are responsible for different forms of albinism with overlapping clinical features. In this study, 27 albinistic individuals from 24 families were screened for causal variants by a PCR-sequencing based approach. TYR, OCA2, TYRP1, SLC45A2, SLC24A5, TYRP2 and SILV were selected as candidate genes. We identified 5 TYR and 3 OCA2 mutations, majority in homozygous state, in 8 unrelated patients including a case of autosomal recessive ocular albinism (AROA). A homozygous 4-nucleotide novel insertion in SLC24A5 was detected in a person showing with extreme cutaneous hypopigmentation. A potential causal variant was identified in the TYRP2 gene in a single patient. Haplotype analyses in the patients carrying homozygous mutations in the classical OCA genes suggested founder effect. This is the first report of an Indian AROA patient harboring a mutation in OCA2. Our results also reveal for the first time that mutations in SLC24A5 could contribute to extreme hypopigmentation in humans.

Concepts: Genetics, Mutation, Allele, Evolution, Melanin, Human skin color, Albinism, Oculocutaneous albinism


To evaluate the benefits of phacoemulsification and intraocular lens implantation in patients with oculocutaneous albinism (OCA).

Concepts: Lens, Intraocular lens, Albinism, Oculocutaneous albinism


The first white Doberman pinscher (WDP) dog was registered by the American Kennel Club in 1976. The novelty of the white coat color resulted in extensive line breeding of this dog and her offspring. The WDP phenotype closely resembles human oculocutaneous albinism (OCA) and clinicians noticed a seemingly high prevalence of pigmented masses on these dogs. This study had three specific aims: (1) produce a detailed description of the ocular phenotype of WDPs, (2) objectively determine if an increased prevalence of ocular and cutaneous melanocytic tumors was present in WDPs, and (3) determine if a genetic mutation in any of the genes known to cause human OCA is causal for the WDP phenotype. WDPs have a consistent ocular phenotype of photophobia, hypopigmented adnexal structures, blue irides with a tan periphery and hypopigmented retinal pigment epithelium and choroid. WDPs have a higher prevalence of cutaneous melanocytic neoplasms compared with control standard color Doberman pinschers (SDPs); cutaneous tumors were noted in 12/20 WDP (<5 years of age: 4/12; >5 years of age: 8/8) and 1/20 SDPs (p<0.00001). Using exclusion analysis, four OCA causative genes were investigated for their association with WDP phenotype; TYR, OCA2, TYRP1 and SLC45A2. SLC45A2 was found to be linked to the phenotype and gene sequencing revealed a 4,081 base pair deletion resulting in loss of the terminus of exon seven of SLC45A2 (chr4∶77,062,968-77,067,051). This mutation is highly likely to be the cause of the WDP phenotype and is supported by a lack of detectable SLC45A2 transcript levels by reverse transcriptase PCR. The WDP provides a valuable model for studying OCA4 visual disturbances and melanocytic neoplasms in a large animal model.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Causality, Retina, Oculocutaneous albinism, Doberman Pinscher


Intracellular ion channels are essential regulators of organellar and cellular function, yet the molecular identity and physiological role of many of these channels remains elusive. In particular, no ion channel has been characterized in melanosomes, organelles that produce and store the major mammalian pigment melanin. Defects in melanosome function cause albinism, characterized by vision and pigmentation deficits, impaired retinal development, and increased susceptibility to skin and eye cancers. The most common form of albinism is caused by mutations in oculocutaneous albinism II (OCA2), a melanosome-specific transmembrane protein with unknown function. Here we used direct patch-clamp of skin and eye melanosomes to identify a novel chloride-selective anion conductance mediated by OCA2 and required for melanin production. Expression of OCA2 increases organelle pH, suggesting that the chloride channel might regulate melanin synthesis by modulating melanosome pH. Thus, a melanosomal anion channel that requires OCA2 is essential for skin and eye pigmentation.

Concepts: Protein, Cell, Cell membrane, Organelle, Melanin, Human skin color, Melanosome, Oculocutaneous albinism


Oculocutaneous albinism (OCA) and ocular albinism (OA) are inherited disorders of melanin biosynthesis, resulting in loss of pigment and severe visual deficits. OCA encompasses a range of subtypes with overlapping, often hypomorphic phenotypes. OCA1 is the most common cause of albinism in European populations and is inherited through autosomal recessive mutations in the Tyrosinase (TYR) gene. However, there is a high level of reported missing heritability, where only a single heterozygous mutation is found in TYR. This is also the case for other OCA subtypes including OCA2 caused by mutations in the OCA2 gene. Here we have interrogated the genetic cause of albinism in a well phenotyped, hypomorphic albinism population by sequencing a broad gene panel and performing segregation studies on phenotyped family members. Of eighteen probands we can confidently diagnose three with OA and OCA2, and one with a PAX6 mutation. Of six probands with only a single heterozygous mutation in TYR, all were found to have the two common variants S192Y and R402Q. Our results suggest that a combination of R402Q and S192Y with a deleterious mutation in a ‘tri-allelic genotype’ can account for missing heritability in some hypomorphic OCA1 albinism phenotypes.

Concepts: Genetics, Mutation, Allele, Evolution, Melanin, Albinism, Tyrosinase, Oculocutaneous albinism


Homozygosity for a large deletion in the solute carrier family 45, member 2 (SLC45A2) gene causes oculocutaneous albinism (OCA) in the Doberman Pinscher breed. An albino Lhasa Apso did not have this g.27141_31223del (CanFam2) deletion in her SLC45A2 sequence. Therefore, SLC45A2 was investigated in this female Lhasa Apso to search for other possible variants that caused her albinism. The albino Lhasa Apso was homozygous for a nonsynonymous substitution in the seventh exon, a c.1478G>A base change that resulted in a glycine to aspartic acid substitution (p.G493D). This mutation was not found in a wolf, a coyote, or any of the 15 other Lhasa Apso dogs or 32 other dogs of breeds related to the Lhasa Apso. However, an albino Pekingese, 2 albino Pomeranians, and an albino mixed breed dog that was small and long haired were also homozygous for the 493D allele. The colored puppies of the albino Lhasa Apso and the colored dam of the 2 albino Pomeranians were heterozygous for this allele. However, an albino Pug was homozygous for the 493G allele and therefore although we suggest the 493D allele causes albinism when homozygous in several small, long haired dog breeds, it does not explain all albinism in dogs. A variant effect prediction for the albino Lhasa Apso confirms that p.G493D is a deleterious substitution, and a topology prediction for SLC45A2 suggests that the 11th transmembrane domain where the 493rd amino acid was located, has an altered structure.

Concepts: Allele, Amino acid, Dog, Dog breed, Albinism, Oculocutaneous albinism, Dominance, Lhasa Apso


Hermansky-Pudlak syndrome (HPS), a hereditary multisystem disorder with oculocutaneous albinism, may be caused by mutations in one of at least 10 separate genes. The HPS-2 subtype is distinguished by the presence of neutropenia and knowledge of its pulmonary phenotype in children is scarce.

Concepts: Genetics, Cancer, Natural selection, Evolution, Pulmonology, Biology, Phenotype, Oculocutaneous albinism


Understanding the genetic basis of trait evolution is critical to identifying the mechanisms that generated the immense amount of diversity observable in the living world. However, genetically manipulating organisms from natural populations with evolutionary adaptations remains a significant challenge. Astyanax mexicanus, the blind Mexican cavefish, exists in two interfertile forms, a surface-dwelling form and multiple independently evolved cave-dwelling forms. Cavefish have evolved a number of morphological and behavioral traits and multiple quantitative trait loci (QTL) analyses have been performed to identify loci underlying these traits. These studies provide a unique opportunity to identify and test candidate genes for these cave-specific traits. We have leveraged the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing techniques to characterize the effects of mutations in oculocutaneous albinism II (oca2), a candidate gene hypothesized to be responsible for the evolution of albinism in A. mexicanus cave populations. We generated oca2 mutant surface A. mexicanus. Surface fish with oca2 mutations are albino due to a disruption in first step in the melanin synthesis pathway, the same step that is disrupted in albino cavefish. Hybrid offspring from crosses between oca2 mutant surface and cavefish are albino, definitively demonstrating the role of this gene in the evolution of albinism in this species. This research elucidates the role oca2 plays in pigmentation in fish, and establishes that this gene is solely responsible for the evolution of albinism in multiple cavefish populations. Finally, it demonstrates the utility of using genome editing to investigate the genetic basis of trait evolution.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Allele, Evolution, Biology, Melanin, Oculocutaneous albinism


Albinism is an inherited condition with a relatively high prevalence in populations throughout sub-Saharan Africa. People with oculocutaneous albinism have little or no pigment in their hair, skin and eyes; thus they are visually impaired and extremely sensitive to the damaging effect of the sun on their skin. Aside from the health implications of oculocutaneous albinism, there are also significant sociocultural risks. The impacts of albinism are particularly serious in areas that associate albinism with legend and folklore, leading to stigmatisation and discrimination. In regions of Africa those with albinism may be assaulted and sometimes killed for their body parts for use in witchcraft-related rites or to make ‘lucky’ charms. There is a dearth of research on the psychosocial aspects of albinism and particularly on how albinism impacts on the everyday lives of people with albinism.

Concepts: Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Sun, Melanin, Human skin color, Albinism, Oculocutaneous albinism, Biological pigment