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Keywords:

  • Eye colour;
  • melanocyte;
  • OCA2/ HERC2;
  • quantitative trait;
  • transcription factor;
  • gene regulation;
  • MITF;
  • PAX6

Summary

The presence of melanin pigment within the iris is responsible for the visual impression of human eye colouration with complex patterns also evident in this tissue, including Fuchs’ crypts, nevi, Wolfflin nodules and contraction furrows. The genetic basis underlying the determination and inheritance of these traits has been the subject of debate and research from the very beginning of quantitative trait studies in humans. Although segregation of blue-brown eye colour has been described using a simple Mendelian dominant-recessive gene model this is too simplistic, and a new molecular genetic perspective is needed to fully understand the biological complexities of this process as a polygenic trait. Nevertheless, it has been estimated that 74% of the variance in human eye colour can be explained by one interval on chromosome 15 that contains the OCA2 gene. Fine mapping of this region has identified a single base change rs12913832 T/C within intron 86 of the upstream HERC2 locus that explains almost all of this association with blue-brown eye colour. A model is presented whereby this SNP, serving as a target site for the SWI/SNF family member HLTF, acts as part of a highly evolutionary conserved regulatory element required for OCA2 gene activation through chromatin remodelling. Major candidate genes possibly effecting iris patterns are also discussed, including MITF and PAX6.