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Allele‐specific cis‐regulatory methylation of the gene for vasoactive intestinal peptide in white‐throated sparrows


Prichard, Mackenzie R. et al. (2022), Allele‐specific cis‐regulatory methylation of the gene for vasoactive intestinal peptide in white‐throated sparrows, Dryad, Dataset,


White-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) offer a unique opportunity to connect genotype with behavioral phenotype. In this species, a rearrangement of the second chromosome is linked with territorial aggression; birds with a copy of this “supergene” rearrangement are more aggressive than those without it. The supergene has captured the gene VIP, which encodes vasoactive intestinal peptide, a neuromodulator that causes aggression in other songbirds. In white-throated sparrows, VIP expression is higher in the anterior hypothalamus of birds with the supergene than those without it, and expression of VIP in this region predicts the level of territorial aggression regardless of genotype. Here, we aimed to identify epigenetic mechanisms that could contribute to differential expression of VIP both in breeding adults, which exhibit morph differences in territorial aggression, and in nestlings, before territorial behavior develops. We extracted and bisulfite-converted DNA from samples of the hypothalamus in wild-caught adults and nestlings and used high-throughput sequencing to measure DNA methylation of a region upstream of the VIP start site. We found that the allele inside the supergene was less methylated than the alternative allele in both adults and nestlings. The differential methylation was attributed primarily to CpG sites that were shared between the alleles, not to polymorphic sites, which suggests that epigenetic regulation is occurring independently of the genetic differentiation within the supergene. This work represents an initial step toward understanding how epigenetic differentiation inside chromosomal inversions leads to the development of alternative behavioral phenotypes.


Paired-end reads from bisulfite sequencing of a cis-regulatory element of the VIP gene in white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis).

Files were processed using FastQC, cutadapt, SNPsplit, bismark_methylation_extractor, and bismark_to_bedgraph.

More detail about the library preparation and subsequent data analyses are available here: 

Usage Notes

These files may be processed and analyzed using R.


National Institutes of Health, Award: R01MH082833

National Institutes of Health, Award: F31MH114509