A gene co-association network regulating gut microbial communities in a Duroc pig population

Antonio Reverter, Maria Ballester, Pamela A. Alexandre, Emilio Mármol-Sánchez, Antoni Dalmau, Raquel Quintanilla, Yuliaxis Ramayo-Caldas*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Analyses of gut microbiome composition in livestock species have shown its potential to contribute to the regulation of complex phenotypes. However, little is known about the host genetic control over the gut microbial communities. In pigs, previous studies are based on classical “single-gene-single-trait” approaches and have evaluated the role of host genome controlling gut prokaryote and eukaryote communities separately. Results: In order to determine the ability of the host genome to control the diversity and composition of microbial communities in healthy pigs, we undertook genome-wide association studies (GWAS) for 39 microbial phenotypes that included 2 diversity indexes, and the relative abundance of 31 bacterial and six commensal protist genera in 390 pigs genotyped for 70 K SNPs. The GWAS results were processed through a 3-step analytical pipeline comprised of (1) association weight matrix; (2) regulatory impact factor; and (3) partial correlation and information theory. The inferred gene regulatory network comprised 3561 genes (within a 5 kb distance from a relevant SNP–P < 0.05) and 738,913 connections (SNP-to-SNP co-associations). Our findings highlight the complexity and polygenic nature of the pig gut microbial ecosystem. Prominent within the network were 5 regulators, PRDM15, STAT1, ssc-mir-371, SOX9 and RUNX2 which gathered 942, 607, 588, 284 and 273 connections, respectively. PRDM15 modulates the transcription of upstream regulators of WNT and MAPK-ERK signaling to safeguard naive pluripotency and regulates the production of Th1- and Th2-type immune response. The signal transducer STAT1 has long been associated with immune processes and was recently identified as a potential regulator of vaccine response to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome. The list of regulators was enriched for immune-related pathways, and the list of predicted targets includes candidate genes previously reported as associated with microbiota profile in pigs, mice and human, such as SLIT3, SLC39A8, NOS1, IL1R2, DAB1, TOX3, SPP1, THSD7B, ELF2, PIANP, A2ML1, and IFNAR1. Moreover, we show the existence of host-genetic variants jointly associated with the relative abundance of butyrate producer bacteria and host performance. Conclusions: Taken together, our results identified regulators, candidate genes, and mechanisms linked with microbiome modulation by the host. They further highlight the value of the proposed analytical pipeline to exploit pleiotropy and the crosstalk between bacteria and protists as significant contributors to host-microbiome interactions and identify genetic markers and candidate genes that can be incorporated in breeding program to improve host-performance and microbial traits. [MediaObject not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish
Article number52
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2021


  • Bacteria
  • Gene network
  • Microbiota
  • Pig
  • Protist
  • Regulators


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