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Blue eye color in humans may be caused by a perfectly associated founder mutation in a regulatory element located within the HERC2 gene inhibiting OCA2 expression


The human eye color is a quantitative trait displaying multifactorial inheritance. Several studies have shown that the OCA2 locus is the major contributor to the human eye color variation. By linkage analysis of a large Danish family, we finemapped the blue eye color locus to a 166 Kbp region within the HERC2 gene. By association analyses, we identified two SNPs within this region that were perfectly associated with the blue and brown eye colors: rs12913832 and rs1129038. Of these, rs12913832 is located 21.152 bp upstream from the OCA2 promoter in a highly conserved sequence in intron 86 of HERC2. The brown eye color allele of rs12913832 is highly conserved throughout a number of species. As shown by a Luciferase assays in cell cultures, the element significantly reduces the activity of the OCA2 promoter and electrophoretic mobility shift assays demonstrate that the two alleles bind different subsets of nuclear extracts. One single haplotype, represented by six polymorphic SNPs covering half of the 3′ end of the HERC2 gene, was found in 155 blue-eyed individuals from Denmark, and in 5 and 2 blue-eyed individuals from Turkey and Jordan, respectively. Hence, our data suggest a common founder mutation in an OCA2 inhibiting regulatory element as the cause of blue eye color in humans. In addition, an LOD score of Z = 4.21 between hair color and D14S72 was obtained in the large family, indicating that RABGGTA is a candidate gene for hair color.

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We would like to thank Karin U. Hansen for technical assistance. The project was financially supported by the Danish Research Foundation (JN 22-02-0208). Wilhelm Johannsen Centre is established by the National Danish Research Center.

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Correspondence to Hans Eiberg.

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Eiberg, H., Troelsen, J., Nielsen, M. et al. Blue eye color in humans may be caused by a perfectly associated founder mutation in a regulatory element located within the HERC2 gene inhibiting OCA2 expression. Hum Genet 123, 177–187 (2008).

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  • Caco2 Cell
  • Hair Color
  • Blond Hair
  • Oculocutaneous Albinism
  • Danish Family