Association mapping focused on 36 genes involved in branch development was used to identify candidate genes for variation in shoot branching in Arabidopsis thaliana. The associations between four branching traits and moderate-frequency haplogroups at the studied genes were tested in a panel of 96 accessions from a restricted geographic range in Central Europe. Using a mixed-model association-mapping method, we identified three loci - MORE AXILLARY GROWTH 2 (MAX2), MORE AXILLARY GROWTH 3 (MAX3), and SUPERSHOOT 1 (SPS1) - that were significantly associated with branching variation. On the basis of a more extensive examination of the MAX2 and MAX3 genomic regions, we find that linkage disequilibrium in these regions decays within ∼10 kb and trait associations localize to the candidate genes in these regions. When the significant associations are compared to relevant quantitative trait loci (QTL) from previous Ler x Col and Cvi x Ler recombinant inbred line (RIL) mapping studies, no additive QTL overlapping these candidate genes are observed, although epistatic QTL for branching, including one that spans the SPS1, are found. These results suggest that epistasis is prevalent in determining branching variation in A. thaliana and may need to be considered in linkage disequilibrium mapping studies of genetically diverse accessions.
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