Nav: Home

Study links fox domestication to gene activity in the pituitary gland

February 14, 2018

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A study of foxes offers new insights into the brain changes that occur in wild canids as they become more tame, researchers report. The study links fox domestication to changes in gene activity in the pituitary gland, a brain center that kicks out hormones to regulate various bodily functions, including the stress response.

The study, published in the journal G3: Genes | Genomes | Genetics, adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that domestication alters animals' reactivity to stress.

"Other studies have seen a relationship between tameness and stress responses in animals," said Jessica Hekman, the first author of the paper who worked on the study as a graduate student in the laboratory of University of Illinois animal sciences professor Anna Kukekova. Hekman is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. "In particular, the characteristic reduction in fearfulness of domesticated animals is closely linked to reductions in blood levels of ACTH, a hormone released by the anterior pituitary gland that, among other things, drives the stress response."

To get a better view of how this might occur, the researchers looked at gene activity in the anterior pituitary glands of foxes in a breeding program at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Russia, designed to study the evolutionary processes associated with domestication. They compared six foxes selectively bred for tameness and six foxes selectively bred for aggression.

"Previous studies have found that ACTH levels in the anterior pituitary do not differ between tame and aggressive fox strains," Kukekova said. "This means that differential expression of the gene encoding ACTH may not cause the differences seen in blood levels of this hormone, and some other mechanism is reducing ACTH in the bloodstream of tame foxes."

"Our analysis revealed that the differences between tame and aggressive foxes may lie in cells in the anterior pituitary gland, which can change their shapes to communicate with one another about when it's time to release stress hormones," Hekman said. "Their pituitary glands may produce the same amount of stress hormones but be less efficient at getting those hormones into the bloodstream."

"If confirmed, our finding could help explain why tame foxes are not stressed so easily as foxes that have not been selected for tameness," Kukekova said.
-end-
The National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture supported this research.

Editor's notes:

To reach Anna Kukekova, email avk@illinois.edu.

To reach Jessica Hekman, email jph@dogzombie.com.

The paper "Anterior pituitary transcriptome suggests differences in ACTH release in tame and aggressive foxes" is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related Stress Articles:

Measuring stress around cells
Tissues and organs in the human body are shaped through forces generated by cells, that push and pull, to ''sculpt'' biological structures.
Cellular stress at the movies
For the first time, biological imaging experts have used a custom fluorescence microscope and a novel antibody tagging tool to watch living cells undergoing stress.
Maternal stress at conception linked to children's stress response at age 11
A new study published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease finds that mothers' stress levels at the moment they conceive their children are linked to the way children respond to life challenges at age 11.
A new way to see stress -- using supercomputers
Supercomputer simulations show that at the atomic level, material stress doesn't behave symmetrically.
Beware of evening stress
Stressful events in the evening release less of the body's stress hormones than those that happen in the morning, suggesting possible vulnerability to stress in the evening.
More Stress News and Stress Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...