Regulatory changes in pterin and carotenoid genes underlie balanced color polymorphisms in the wall lizard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Reptiles use pterin and carotenoid pigments to produce yellow, orange, and red colors. These conspicuous colors serve a diversity of signaling functions, but their molecular basis remains unresolved. Here, we show that the genomes of sympatric color morphs of the European common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis), which differ in orange and yellow pigmentation and in their ecology and behavior, are virtually undifferentiated. Genetic differences are restricted to two small regulatory regions near genes associated with pterin [sepiapterin reductase (SPR)] and carotenoid [beta-carotene oxygenase 2 (BCO2)] metabolism, demonstrating that a core gene in the housekeeping pathway of pterin biosynthesis has been coopted for bright coloration in reptiles and indicating that these loci exert pleiotropic effects on other aspects of physiology. Pigmentation differences are explained by extremely divergent alleles, and haplotype analysis revealed abundant transspecific allele sharing with other lacertids exhibiting color polymorphisms. The evolution of these conspicuous color ornaments is the result of ancient genetic variation and cross-species hybridization.


  • Pedro Andrade
  • Catarina Pinho
  • Guillem Pérez i. de Lanuza
  • Sandra Afonso
  • Jindrich Brejcha
  • Carl Johan Rubin
  • Ola Wallerman
  • Paulo Pereira
  • Stephen J. Sabatino
  • Adriana Bellati
  • Daniele Pellitteri-Rosa
  • Zuzana Bosakova
  • Ignas Bunikis
  • Miguel A. Carretero
  • Petr Marsik
  • Francisco Paupério
  • Daniele Salvi
  • Lucile Soler
  • Geoffrey M. While
  • Enrique Font
  • Leif Andersson
  • Miguel Carneiro
External organisations
  • University of Porto
  • Charles University in Prague
  • Valencia University Hospital
  • Uppsala University
  • University of Pavia
  • Czech University of Life Sciences Prague
  • University of L'Aquila
  • University of Tasmania
  • University of Oxford
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
  • Texas A and M University
  • National Bioinformatics Infrastructure Sweden, NBIS
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Evolutionary Biology


  • Balanced polymorphism, Carotenoid pigmentation, Introgression, Podarcis muralis, Pterin pigmentation
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5633-5642
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch