Exploring Brain Gene Expression i Animal Models of Behaviour

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: The genetic basis for behavioural traits is largely unknown. The overall aim of this thesis was to find genes with importance for behavioural traits related to fear and anxiety. Microarray analysis was used to screen expression profiles of brain regions important for emotional behaviour in dogs, wolves, foxes and mice. In a first experiment, dogs and their wild ancestors the wolves were compared. Our results suggested that directed selection for behaviour might have resulted in expression changes in few genes acting on several brain functions, possibly affecting behaviour. However, the observed expressional differences were confounded with environmental effects. This was addressed in a second study on domesticated silver foxes. By correlating behaviour and brain gene expression in foxes selected for tameness to non-selected foxes raised in the same environment, we found large behavioural differences but only few genes with differential expression in the brain. Fifteen of the 40 genes showing evidence of expression difference were related to haem or haemoglobins. Further studies showed an additive genetic effect on brain gene expression, similar to the additive genetic inheritance of behaviour, indicating an involvement in domestication. Transcriptional profiling was also used for finding genes involved with the sleep disorder narcolepsy. Narcoleptic Doberman pinschers homozygous for the canarc-1 mutation were compared to their unaffected heterozygots revealing reduced expression of three genes, TAC1, PENK and SOCS2, with relevance to the narcoleptic phenotype. Finally gene expression was investigated in relation to anxiety-related traits in a mouse model. Surprisingly, as in the fox study, genes coding for haemoglobins indicated differential expression in the brain between animals with different anxiety levels. Our combined results suggest that genes like haemoglobins, best known for their function in oxygen transport in blood, may also participate in brain functions related to decreased anxiety in domestic animals.