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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

A frame-shift mutation in COMTD1 is associated with impaired pheomelanin pigmentation in chicken

Bi, Huijuan; Tranell, Jonas; Harper, Dawn C.; Lin, Weifeng; Li, Jingyi; Hellstroem, Anders R.; Larsson, Marten; Rubin, Carl-Johan; Wang, Chao; Sayyab, Shumaila; Kerje, Susanne; Bed'hom, Bertrand; Gourichon, David; Ito, Shosuke; Wakamatsu, Kazumasa; Tixier-Boichard, Michele; Marks, Michael S.; Globisch, Daniel; Andersson, Leif


Author summaryVertebrates possess two types of melanin, red/yellow pheomelanin and black/brown eumelanin. In this study, we report that the recessive Inhibitor of gold phenotype in chicken, which causes a severe defect in pheomelanin pigmentation, is associated with a mutation that most likely inactivates the COMTD1 gene. This gene encodes an O-methyltransferase enzyme and is present throughout vertebrate evolution, but is one of the many genes in vertebrate genomes for which the biological function is still poorly understood. This is the first report of a COMTD1 mutation associated with a phenotypic effect. We show that the COMTD1 protein is present in mitochondria in pigment cells. Furthermore, inactivation of the gene in a mouse pigment cell line results in a significant reduction in metabolites that are important for the synthesis of pheomelanin. We hypothesize that COMTD1 activity protects pigment cells from oxidative stress and that inactivation of this function impairs the production of pheomelanin. It is likely that COMTD1 has a similar function in other cell types. This study establishes this chicken mutation as a model for further studies of COMTD1 function.The biochemical pathway regulating the synthesis of yellow/red pheomelanin is less well characterized than the synthesis of black/brown eumelanin. Inhibitor of gold (IG phenotype) is a plumage colour variant in chicken that provides an opportunity to further explore this pathway since the recessive allele (IG) at this locus is associated with a defect in the production of pheomelanin. IG/IG homozygotes display a marked dilution of red pheomelanin pigmentation, whilst black pigmentation (eumelanin) is only slightly affected. Here we show that a 2-base pair insertion (frame-shift mutation) in the 5(th) exon of the Catechol-O-methyltransferase containing domain 1 gene (COMTD1), expected to cause a complete or partial loss-of-function of the COMTD1 enzyme, shows complete concordance with the IG phenotype within and across breeds. We show that the COMTD1 protein is localized to mitochondria in pigment cells. Knockout of Comtd1 in a mouse melanocytic cell line results in a reduction in pheomelanin metabolites and significant alterations in metabolites of glutamate/glutathione, riboflavin, and the tricarboxylic acid cycle. Furthermore, COMTD1 overexpression enhanced cellular proliferation following chemical-induced transfection, a potential inducer of oxidative stress. These observations suggest that COMTD1 plays a protective role for melanocytes against oxidative stress and that this supports their ability to produce pheomelanin.

Published in

2023, Volume: 19, number: 4, article number: e1010724

    SLU Authors

    • Kerje, Susanne

      • Uppsala University
    • UKÄ Subject classification

      Cell Biology
      Genetics and Breeding

      Publication Identifiers


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