Combined change of behavioral traits for domestication and gene-networks in mice selectively bred for active tameness

Genes Brain Behav. 2021 Mar;20(3):e12721. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12721. Epub 2021 Jan 7.


Tameness is a major element of animal domestication and involves two components: motivation to approach humans (active tameness) and reluctance to avoid humans (passive tameness). To understand the behavioral and genetic mechanisms of active tameness in mice, we had previously conducted selective breeding for long durations of contact and heading toward human hands in an active tameness test using a wild-derived heterogeneous stock. Although the study showed a significant increase in contacting and heading with the 12th generation of breeding, the effect on other behavioral indices related to tameness and change of gene expression levels underlying selective breeding was unclear. Here, we analyzed nine tameness-related traits at a later stage of selective breeding and analyzed how gene expression levels were changed by the selective breeding. We found that five traits, including contacting and heading, showed behavioral change in the selective groups comparing to the control through the generations. Furthermore, we conducted cluster analyses to evaluate the relationships among the nine traits and found that contacting and heading combined in an independent cluster in the selected groups, but not in the control groups. RNA-Seq of hippocampal tissue revealed differential expression of 136 genes between the selection and control groups, while the pathway analysis identified the networks associated with these genes. These results suggest that active tameness was hidden in the control groups but became apparent in the selected populations by selective breeding, potentially driven by changes in gene expression networks.

Keywords: active tameness; behavior; domestication; heterogeneous stock; mouse; selective breeding; sexual difference; tameness; transcriptome; wildness.