The identification of the dwarf phenotype in chicken is based on body weight, height, and shank length, leaving the differentiation between dwarf and small breeds ambiguous. The aims of the present study were to characterize the sequence variations associated with the dwarf phenotype in three Italian chicken breeds and to investigate the genes associated with their phenotype. Five hundred and forty-one chickens from 23 local breeds (from 20 to 24 animals per breed) were sampled. All animals were genotyped with the 600 K chicken SNP array. Three breeds were described as “dwarf”, namely, Mericanel della Brianza (MERI), Mugellese (MUG), and Pepoi (PPP). We compared MERI, MUG, and PPP with the four heaviest breeds in the dataset by performing genome-wide association studies. Results showed significant SNPs associated with dwarfism in the MERI and MUG breeds, which shared a candidate genomic region on chromosome 1. Due to this similarity, MERI and MUG were analyzed together as a meta-population, observing significant SNPs in the LEMD3 and HMGA2 genes, which were previously reported as being responsible for dwarfism in different species. In conclusion, MERI and MUG breeds seem to share a genetic basis of dwarfism, which differentiates them from the small PPP breed.
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