The genetic basis of parental care evolution in Peromyscus mice


February 17, 2016 - 1:00pm
Northwest 243
About the Speaker
Andres Bendesky (Hoekstra Lab)

Parental care is critical to offspring survival, yet we know little about how genetic differences affect the brain to modify parental care. Using two closely related species of Peromyscus mice that differ greatly in parental care, we identify regions of the genome that affect specific aspects of parenting (e.g. nesting behaviour), and variants that affect multiple components (e.g. huddling, licking and retrieving pups). Interestingly, some regions modulate paternal behaviour while leaving maternal behaviour intact (and vice versa), suggesting that for some behaviors variation among mothers and variation among fathers have different molecular mechanisms. In one of these regions, we found that a specific gene, vasopressin, is expressed at higher levels in the hypothalamus of mice that build less sophisticated nests. Finally, by manipulating the activity of vasopressin neurons in the hypothalamus, we can induce and suppress nest-building behavior. Thus, we have identified a specific gene whose variation modulates parental behaviour in mammals.