Fear but not social behaviour is affected by a polymorphism in the 5’-flanking region of the serotonin transporter (5-HTT) gene in adult hens
The serotonin transporter gene (5-HTT) is involved in the regulation of the neural serotonin. Polymorphisms in the 5-HTT gene have been described in many species to be involved in physiological processes and emotions. A functional polymorphism in the 5´-flanking region of the 5-HTT gene is known from chickens, with a deletion-allele (D), which is associated with an increased 5-HTT expression, in comparison to the wild-type-allele (W). In domestic populations, the majority of hens carry the W-allele. The regulatory changes of the 5-HTT are accompanied in chickens, as in humans, by modulations of fear. Beside these effects on fear, the understanding of potential functional consequences on the social behaviour in the gregarious chicken is lacking. Thus, we here investigated whether the 5-HTT polymorphism with three genotypes (WW, WD, DD), is not only linked to fear-related behaviour, but affects also socio-positive and -negative behaviours of adult hens. Our data confirmed the effects on fear-related behaviour. WW hens showed highest levels of fear. Interestingly, no differences in the social behaviours were present between the hens of the different 5-HTT genotypes. We further discuss implications for potential evolutionary pathways via natural selection and / or artificial selection through domestication of the 5-HTT polymorphism, which might have enabled a stable social lifestyle in the wild ancestors of modern chickens.
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