Commun Biol 4 (1) 795 [2021-06-25; online 2021-06-25]
The underlying molecular mechanisms that determine long day versus short day breeders remain unknown in any organism. Atlantic herring provides a unique opportunity to examine the molecular mechanisms involved in reproduction timing, because both spring and autumn spawners exist within the same species. Although our previous whole genome comparisons revealed a strong association of TSHR alleles with spawning seasons, the functional consequences of these variants remain unknown. Here we examined the functional significance of six candidate TSHR mutations strongly associated with herring reproductive seasonality. We show that the L471M missense mutation in the spring-allele causes enhanced cAMP signaling. The best candidate non-coding mutation is a 5.2 kb retrotransposon insertion upstream of the TSHR transcription start site, near an open chromatin region, which is likely to affect TSHR expression. The insertion occurred prior to the split between Pacific and Atlantic herring and was lost in the autumn-allele. Our study shows that strongly associated coding and non-coding variants at the TSHR locus may both contribute to the regulation of seasonal reproduction in herring.