Allele-biased expression of the bovine APOB gene associated with the cholesterol deficiency defect suggests cis-regulatory enhancer effects of the LTR retrotransposon insertion
The insertion of an endogenous retroviral long terminal repeat (LTR) sequence into the bovine apolipoprotein B (APOB) gene is causal to the inherited genetic defect cholesterol deficiency (CD) observed in neonatal and young calves. Affected calves suffer from developmental abnormalities, symptoms of incurable diarrhoea and often die within weeks to a few months after birth. Neither the detailed effects of the LTR insertion on APOB expression profile nor the specific mode of inheritance nor detailed phenotypic consequences of the mutation are undisputed. In our study, we analysed German Holstein dairy heifers at the peak of hepatic metabolic load and exposed to an additional pathogen challenge for clinical, metabolic and hepatic transcriptome differences between wild type (CDF) and heterozygote carriers of the mutation (CDC). Our data revealed that a divergent allele-biased expression pattern of the APOB gene in heterozygous CDC animals leads to a tenfold higher expression of exons upstream and a decreased expression of exons downstream of the LTR insertion compared to expression levels of CDF animals. This expression pattern could be a result of enhancer activity induced by the LTR insertion, in addition to a previously reported artificial polyadenylation signal. Thus, our data support a regulatory potential of mobile element insertions. With regard to the phenotype generated by the LTR insertion, heterozygote CDC carriers display significantly differential hepatic expression of genes involved in cholesterol biosynthesis and lipid metabolism. Phenotypically, CDC carriers show a significantly affected lipomobilization compared to wild type animals. These results reject a completely recessive mode of inheritance for the CD defect, which should be considered for selection decisions in the affected population. Exemplarily, our results illustrate the regulatory impact of mobile element insertions not only on specific host target gene expression but also on global transcriptome profiles with subsequent biological, functional and phenotypic consequences in a natural in-vivo model of a non-model mammalian organism.