The human genome is composed of about 3 billion base pairs, of which only about 2% forms coding DNA (genes); the rest is non-coding
and serves various functions, such as gene regulation. Humans have about 20-25,000 genes, although the function of 50% of
them is unknown. A 99% complete map of the human genome was announced in 2003. The cost was approximately $2.7 billion, and
the project required a consortium of 20 groups and took 13 years. A light coverage map of the feline genome (representing
the DNA of an Abyssinian cat named "Cinnamon") was announced in 2005. The feline genome also has about 3 billion base pairs.
The project cost approximately $5.5 million. Improving the detail of the map and filling in gaps will require the collective
resources of sequencing facilities, genetic mappers, geneticists, veterinarians, and others over the coming years.
About 250 genetic diseases are known in the cat, many of them having close parallels to human diseases. In fact, the cat serves
as animal model for about 200 human diseases. Genetic research focuses not only on inherited diseases, but also on infectious
diseases such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV; a model for human immunodeficiency virus, HIV). Even genes responsible
for coat colors in cats are being identified and may have medical implications. As the feline genome project progresses, more
single gene trait diseases will be identified, as well as diseases with a complex genetic component (e.g., feline infectious
peritonitis, diabetes, asthma). Currently, more than one dozen genetic tests are available for the cat, including tests for
blood type and some coat colors. Veterinarians and veterinary technicians must understand the proper use and interpretation
of genetic tests as more become available. Excellent resources for feline genetic diseases include the University of Pennsylvania,
Section of Medical Genetics (http://w3.vet.upenn.edu/research/centers/penngen/) and the University of California Veterinary Genetics Lab (
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a primary disease of the left ventricular myocardium characterized by mild to severe
concentric hypertrophy. It is the most common cardiac disease of the cat (Rodriguez and Harpster 2002) and may cause congestive
heart failure, sudden death, or arterial thromboembolism in some affected cats. The average age at diagnosis is 5 to 7 years.
Diagnosis of HCM requires a combination of tools, such as physical examination, thoracic radiography, and echocardiography.
HCM occurs in 1 in 500 people, and is inherited in at least 60% of cases, usually as an autosomal dominant genetic trait.
The mutations causing human HCM are found in several genes, including the β-myosin heavy-chain, α-tropomyosin, cardiac troponin
T and I, and myosin-binding protein C (MyBPC). Approximately 35-40% of human mutations are found in the β-myosin heavy-chain
gene, with over 50 point mutations identified to date. Some mutations causing HCM produce malignant disease with short survival
time; others produce more benign disease with little effect on survival.
Familial HCM was identified in cats 35 years after the first identification of a human family with HCM. To date, two genetic
mutations have been identified in cats, one each in the Maine Coon and Ragdoll breeds. Maine Coon cats are the best studied
example of feline HCM. The disease is inherited as an autosomal dominant trait in this breed. One causative mutation has been
identified in Maine Coons, in the MyBPC gene (Meurs, Sanchez et al. 2005). The mutation changes a conserved amino acid, which
alters protein structure and changes the function of the sarcomere, the basic contractile unit in heart muscle. The disease
is progressive and has complete penetrance (all cats with the mutation have HCM). Cats homozygous for the mutation tend to
develop moderate to severe disease, and in one study, most homozygotes died of their disease before 4 years of age (Meurs,
Sanchez et al. 2005). Cats heterozygous for the mutation may live into late middle or old age with moderate disease. At least
one other mutation is likely present in the breed, but has not yet been identified.
The form of HCM found in Ragdoll cats seems to cause severe disease, often with an early age of onset (Lefbom, Rosenthal et
al. 2001). A causative mutation has been identified in the MyBPC gene, but it is not the same mutation responsible for HCM
in Maine Coons (Meurs, Norgard et al. 2007). Other breeds with familial HCM are known (e.g., Persian, British Shorthair, American
Shorthair, Sphynx, Norwegian Forest Cat, Bengal, etc.) but further research is required to determine the respective causative
mutations. Some cat breeds appear to be at low risk for HCM, such as Siamese and Abyssinians.
Genetic testing for HCM in Maine Coon cats and Ragdoll cats can be performed by some diagnostic laboratories, usually with
a simple buccal (cheek) swab. The results are typically reported as "negative", "positive homozygote", or "positive heterozygote."
A negative test result means the cat does not have the specific HCM mutation being tested. However, the cat could have another
HCM mutation and still develop disease. A positive homozygote has two abnormal copies of the gene and may develop moderate
to severe HCM. These cats should be evaluated regularly, including an echocardiogram. A positive heterozygote has one abnormal
copy of the gene, and one normal copy. These cats might develop mild to moderate HCM and also should be evaluated regularly.
For more information on testing and research: Veterinary Cardiac Genetics Lab at Washington State University (http://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/deptsVCGL/).