Understanding the genetics of autoimmune disease: two loci that regulate late onset Addison's disease in Portuguese Water Dogs


K. G. Lark, Department of Biology, University of Utah, 257 South 1400 East, Room 201, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA, Tel.: (801) 581–7364; Fax: (801) 585–9131; E-mail: lark@bioscience.utah.edu


Addison's disease, an immune-mediated disorder caused by destruction of the adrenal glands, is a rare disorder of Western European populations. Studies indicate that the disorder is polygenic in nature, involving specific alleles of the CTLA-4, DRB1*04 and DQ, Cyp27B1, VDR and MIC-A and -B loci. A similar immune form of Addison's disease occurs in several breeds of domestic dog, with frequencies ranging from 1.5 to 9.0%. The high frequency of the disease in domestic dog breeds likely reflects the small number of founders associated with many breeds, subsequent inbreeding, and the frequent use of popular sires.

The Portuguese Water Dog (PWD) is a significantly affected breed. An analysis of 11 384 PWDs surveyed between 1985 and 1996 suggests a breed-specific disease incidence of 1.5%. As with humans, the disease is typically of late onset.

This study involves a genetic comparison of Addison's disease in the PWD to the analogous disease in humans. The study is facilitated by the existence of complete pedigrees and a relatively high degree of inbreeding among PWDs. The breed originated from 31 founders, with 10 animals responsible for 90% of the current gene pool. We describe, specifically, the identification of two disease-associated loci, on Canis familiaris (CFA) chromosomes CFA12 and 37, which are syntenic with the human DRB1 histocompatibility locus alleles HLA-DRB1*04 and DRB1*0301, and to a locus for immunosuppression syntenic with CTLA-4. Strong similarities exist therefore in the complex genetic background of Addison's disease in humans and in the PWD. With the completion of the canine and human genome sequence, the purebred dog is set to become an important comparative model for Addison's as well as other human immune disorders.