Comparison of Village Dog and Wolf Genomes Highlights the Role of the Neural Crest in Dog Domestication

BMC Biol. 2018 Jun 28;16(1):64. doi: 10.1186/s12915-018-0535-2.


Background: Domesticated from gray wolves between 10 and 40 kya in Eurasia, dogs display a vast array of phenotypes that differ from their ancestors, yet mirror other domesticated animal species, a phenomenon known as the domestication syndrome. Here, we use signatures persisting in dog genomes to identify genes and pathways possibly altered by the selective pressures of domestication.

Results: Whole-genome SNP analyses of 43 globally distributed village dogs and 10 wolves differentiated signatures resulting from domestication rather than breed formation. We identified 246 candidate domestication regions containing 10.8 Mb of genome sequence and 429 genes. The regions share haplotypes with ancient dogs, suggesting that the detected signals are not the result of recent selection. Gene enrichments highlight numerous genes linked to neural crest and central nervous system development as well as neurological function. Read depth analysis suggests that copy number variation played a minor role in dog domestication.

Conclusions: Our results identify genes that act early in embryogenesis and can confer phenotypes distinguishing domesticated dogs from wolves, such as tameness, smaller jaws, floppy ears, and diminished craniofacial development as the targets of selection during domestication. These differences reflect the phenotypes of the domestication syndrome, which can be explained by alterations in the migration or activity of neural crest cells during development. We propose that initial selection during early dog domestication was for behavior, a trait influenced by genes which act in the neural crest, which secondarily gave rise to the phenotypes of modern dogs.

Keywords: Canine; Domestication; Neural crest; Retinoic acid; Selection scan.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Copy Number Variations
  • Dogs / genetics*
  • Domestication*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genome
  • Haplotypes / genetics
  • Neural Crest / physiology*
  • Phenotype
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Wolves / genetics*