/Georgia State Researchers Edit Gene to Alter Social Behavior of Animals 

Georgia State Researchers Edit Gene to Alter Social Behavior of Animals 

Key idea: Georgia State University scientists have created gene-edited hamsters for studies of social neuroscience and have found that the biology behind social behavior may be more complex than previously thought.

Original author and publication date: Georgia Estate University – May 13, 2022

Futurizonte Editor’s Note: Today with hamsters, tomorrow (yesterday?) with humans.

From the article:

A team of Georgia State University researchers led by Regents’ Professor of Neuroscience H. Elliott Albers and Distinguished University Professor Kim Huhman used CRISPR-Cas9 technology to eliminate the actions of a neurochemical signaling pathway that plays a critical role in regulating social behaviors in mammals.

Vasopressin and the receptor that it acts on called Avpr1a regulates social phenomena ranging from pair bonding, cooperation, and social communication to dominance and aggression.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), finds that knocking out the Avpr1a receptor in hamsters, and thus effectively eliminating vasopressin’s action on it, dramatically altered the expression of social behavior in unexpected ways.

“We were really surprised at the results,” Albers said. “We anticipated that if we eliminated vasopressin activity, we would reduce both aggression and social communication. But the opposite happened.”

Instead, the hamsters without the receptor showed much higher levels of social communication behavior than did their counterparts with intact receptors. Even more interesting, the typical sex differences observed in aggressiveness were eliminated with both male and female hamsters displaying high levels of aggression towards other same-sex individuals.

“This suggests a startling conclusion,” Albers said. “Even though we know that vasopressin increases social behaviors by acting within a number of brain regions, it is possible that the more global effects of the Avpr1a receptor are inhibitory.

“We don’t understand this system as well as we thought we did. The counterintuitive findings tell us we need to start thinking about the actions of these receptors across entire circuits of the brain and not just in specific brain regions.”

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