Hypothalamic transcriptome of tame and aggressive silver foxes (Vulpes vulpes) identifies gene expression differences shared across brain regions

Cheryl S. Rosenfeld, Jessica P. Hekman, Jennifer L. Johnson, Zhen Lyu, Madison T. Ortega, Trupti Joshi, Jiude Mao, Anastasiya V. Vladimirova, Rimma G. Gulevich, Anastasiya V. Kharlamova, Gregory M. Acland, Erin E. Hecht, Xu Wang, Andrew G. Clark, Lyudmila N. Trut, Susanta K. Behura, Anna V. Kukekova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The underlying neurological events accompanying dog domestication remain elusive. To reconstruct the domestication process in an experimental setting, silver foxes (Vulpes vulpes) have been deliberately bred for tame vs aggressive behaviors for more than 50 generations at the Institute for Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Russia. The hypothalamus is an essential part of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and regulates the fight-or-flight response, and thus, we hypothesized that selective breeding for tameness/aggressiveness has shaped the hypothalamic transcriptomic profile. RNA-seq analysis identified 70 differentially expressed genes (DEGs). Seven of these genes, DKKL1, FBLN7, NPL, PRIMPOL, PTGRN, SHCBP1L and SKIV2L, showed the same direction expression differences in the hypothalamus, basal forebrain and prefrontal cortex. The genes differentially expressed across the three tissues are involved in cell division, differentiation, adhesion and carbohydrate processing, suggesting an association of these processes with selective breeding. Additionally, 159 transcripts from the hypothalamus demonstrated differences in the abundance of alternative spliced forms between the tame and aggressive foxes. Weighted gene coexpression network analyses also suggested that gene modules in hypothalamus were significantly associated with tame vs aggressive behavior. Pathways associated with these modules include signal transduction, interleukin signaling, cytokine-cytokine receptor interaction and peptide ligand-binding receptors (eg, G-protein coupled receptor [GPCR] ligand binding). Current studies show the selection for tameness vs aggressiveness in foxes is associated with unique hypothalamic gene profiles partly shared with other brain regions and highlight DEGs involved in biological processes such as development, differentiation and immunological responses. The role of these processes in fox and dog domestication remains to be determined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12614
JournalGenes, Brain and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • RNA-seq
  • behavior
  • brain
  • breeding
  • canine
  • dog
  • domestication
  • evolutionary selection
  • genetics
  • hypothalamus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Neurology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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