Sex-Specific Heritability of Spontaneous Lipid Levels in an Extended Pedigree of Indian-Origin Rhesus Macaques (Macaca mulatta)

Amanda Vinson, Asia D. Mitchell, David Toffey, Jacob Silver, Michael J. Raboin

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4 Scopus citations


The rhesus macaque is an important model for human atherosclerosis but genetic determinants of relevant phenotypes have not yet been investigated in this species. Because lipid levels are well-established and heritable risk factors for human atherosclerosis, our goal was to assess the heritability of lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride levels in a single, extended pedigree of 1,289 Indian-origin rhesus macaques. Additionally, because increasing evidence supports sex differences in the genetic architecture of lipid levels and lipid metabolism in humans and macaques, we also explored sex-specific heritability for all lipid measures investigated in this study. Using standard methods, we measured lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride levels from fasted plasma in a sample of 193 pedigreed rhesus macaques selected for membership in large, paternal half-sib cohorts, and maintained on a low-fat, low cholesterol chow diet. Employing a variance components approach, we found moderate heritability for total cholesterol (h2=0.257, P=0.032), LDL cholesterol (h2=0.252, P=0.030), and triglyceride levels (h2=0.197, P=0.034) in the full sample. However, stratification by sex (N=68 males, N=125 females) revealed substantial sex-specific heritability for total cholesterol (0.644, P=0.004, females only), HDL cholesterol (0.843, P=0.0008, females only), VLDL cholesterol (0.482, P=0.018, males only), and triglyceride levels (0.705, P=0.001, males only) that was obscured or absent when sexes were combined in the full sample. We conclude that genes contribute to spontaneous variation in circulating lipid levels in the Indian-origin rhesus macaque in a sex-specific manner, and that the rhesus macaque is likely to be a valuable model for sex-specific genetic effects on lipid risk factors for human atherosclerosis. These findings are a first-ever report of heritability for cholesterol levels in this species, and support the need for expanded analysis of these traits in this population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere72241
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 8 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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