Salernitano (SAL) is an ancient Italian horse breed developed over the course of the ages together with Napoletano and, during the 20th century, by crossing with Thoroughbred horse lines. Excellent in hurdle jumping, this breed is currently facing a concrete risk of extinction due to the lack of appropriate management strategies. This research is the first SAL genetic characterization that aims to set up the basic knowledge for a conservation plan. A representative sample of 61 SALs was analyzed by means of a set of 16 microsatellites markers (short tandem repeats (STRs)). The sequence of hypervariable D-loop mtDNA region was also performed on a subset of 24 mares in order to study the maternal diversity and obtain a complete picture of the internal genetic variation. All the molecular data were analyzed together with those obtained from three Sicilian horse breeds investigated in a previous research (Siciliano, Sanfratellano and Sicilian Oriental Purebred). STRs markers revealed a moderate level of genetic diversity in SAL (alleles/locus 5.1, He 0.67) and confirmed the hunch of genetic erosion. Autosomal variability highlighted a very light deficit of homozygotes (FIS=-0.067). Experimental D-loop sequences were compared by multiple alignments with those retrieved from biological databases and revealed two unreported haplotypes. The phylogenetic network, which was built on mtDNA sequences, included various cosmopolitan and European horses and showed SAL haplotypes distributed among different mtDNA lineages.
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