A candidate gene approach to identify DNA markers associated with meat quality and production traits: investigation of several cathepsin genes in Italian heavy pigs.

Abstract

The cathepsin enzymes represent an important family of lysosomal proteinases with a broad spectrum of functions in many, if not in all, tissues and cell types. In addition to their primary role during the normal protein turnover, they possess highly specific proteolytic activities, including antigen processing in the immune response and a direct role in the development of obesity and tumours. In pigs, the involvement of cathepsin enzymes in proteolytic processes have important effects during the conversion of muscle to meat, due to their influence on meat texture and sensory characteristics, mainly in seasoned products. Their contribution is fundamental in flavour development of dry-curing hams. However, several authors have demonstrated that high cathepsin activity, in particular of cathepsin B, is correlated to defects of these products, such as an excessive meat softness together with abnormal free tyrosine content, astringent or metallic aftertastes and formation of a white film on the cut surface. Thus, investigation of their genetic variability could be useful to identify DNA markers associated with these dry cured hams parameters, but also with meat quality, production and carcass traits in Italian heavy pigs. Unfortunately, no association has been found between cathepsin markers and meat quality traits so far, in particular with cathepsin B activity, suggesting that other genes, besides these, affect meat quality parameters. Nevertheless, significant associations were observed with several carcass and production traits in pigs. A recent study has demonstrated that different single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) localized in cathepsin D (CTSD), F (CTSF), H and Z genes were highly associated with growth, fat deposition and production traits in an Italian Large White pig population. The aim of this thesis was to confirm some of these results in other pig populations and identify new cathepsin markers in order to evaluate their effects on cathepsin activity and other production traits. Furthermore, starting from the data obtained in previous studies on CTSD gene, we also analyzed the known polymorphism located in the insulin-like growth factor 2 gene (IGF2 intron3-g.3072G>A). This marker is considered the causative mutation for the quantitative trait loci (QTL) affecting muscle mass and fat deposition in pigs. Since IGF2 maps very close to CTSD on porcine chromosome (SSC) 2, we wanted to clarify if the effects of the CTSD marker were due to linkage disequilibrium with the IGF2 intron3-g.3072G>A mutation or not. In the first chapter, we reported the results from these two SSC2 gene markers. First of all, we evaluated the effects of the IGF2 intron3-g.3072G>A polymorphism in the Italian Large White breed, for which no previous studies have analysed this marker. Highly significant associations were identified with all estimated breeding values for production and carcass traits (P<0.00001), while no effects were observed for meat quality traits. Instead, the IGF2 intron3-g.3072G>A mutation did not show any associations with the analyzed traits in the Italian Duroc pigs, probably due to the low level of variability at this polymorphic site for this breed. In the same Duroc pig population, significant associations were obtained for the CTSD marker for all production and carcass traits (P < 0.001), after excluding possible confounding effects of the IGF2 mutation. The effects of the CTSD g.70G>A polymorphism were also confirmed in a group of Italian Large White pigs homozygous for the IGF2 intron3-g.3072G allele G (IGF2 intron3-g.3072GG) and by haplotype analysis between the markers of the two considered genes. Taken together, all these data indicated that the IGF2 intron3-g.3072G>A mutation is not the only polymorphism affecting fatness and muscle deposition in pigs. In the second chapter, we reported the analysis of two new SNPs identified in cathepsin L (CTSL) and cathepsin S (CTSS) genes and the association results with m...