Animals of different social status exhibit variation in aggression, territorial and reproductive behavior as well as activity patterns, feeding, drinking and status signaling. This behavioral and physiological plasticity is coordinated by underlying changes in brain gene transcription. Using Tag-based RNA sequencing (Tag-seq), we explore RNA transcriptomes from the medial preoptic area (mPOA) and ventral hypothalamus (vHYP) of male mice of different social ranks in a dominance hierarchy and detect candidate genes and cellular pathways that underlie status-related plasticity. Within the mPOA, oxytocin (Oxt) and vasopressin (Avp) are more highly expressed in subdominant mice compared to other ranks, while nitric oxide synthase (Nos1) has lower expression in subdominant mice. Within the vHYP, we find that both orexigenic and anorexigenic genes involved in feeding behavior, including agouti-related peptide (Agrp), neuropeptide-Y (Npy), galanin (Gal), proopiomelanocortin (Pomc), and Cocaine- and Amphetamine-Regulated Transcript Protein prepropeptide (Cartpt), are less expressed in dominant animals compared to more subordinate ranks. We suggest that this may represent a reshaping of feeding circuits in dominant compared to subdominant and subordinate animals. Furthermore, we determine several genes that are positively and negatively associated with the level of despotism (aggression) in dominant males. Ultimately, we identify hypothalamic genes controlling feeding and social behaviors that are differentially transcribed across animals of varying social status. These changes in brain transcriptomics likely support phenotypic variation that enable animals to adapt to their current social status.
Keywords: Aggression; Gene expression; Medial preoptic area; Social dominance; Social hierarchy; Tag-Seq; Ventral hypothalamus.
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