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Gene expression of neurotransmitter receptors over reproductive cycle of Nicrophorus vespilloides


Cunningham, Christopher et al. (2022), Gene expression of neurotransmitter receptors over reproductive cycle of Nicrophorus vespilloides, Dryad, Dataset,


Understanding genetic influences of traits in non-model organisms is crucial to understanding how novel traits arise. Do new traits require new genes, or are old genes repurposed? How predictable is this process? Here we examine this question for gene expression influencing parenting behavior in a beetle, Nicrophorus vespilloides. Parental care, produced from many individual behaviors, should be influenced by changes of expression of multiple genes and one suggestion is that the genes can be predicted based on knowledge of behavior expected to be precursors to parental care, such as, aggression, resource defense, and mating on a resource. Thus, testing gene expression during parental care allows us to test expectations of this “precursor hypothesis” for multiple genes and traits. We tested for changes of the expression of serotonin, octopamine/tyramine, and dopamine receptors, as well as, one glutamate receptor, predicting that these gene families would be differentially expressed during social interactions with offspring and associated resource defense. We found that serotonin receptors were strongly associated with social and aggression behavioral transitions. Octopamine receptors produced a complex picture of gene expression over a reproductive cycle. Dopamine was not associated with the behavioral transitions sampled here, while the glutamate receptor was most consistent with a behavioral change of resource defense/aggression. Our results generate new hypotheses, refine candidate lists for further studies, and inform the genetic mechanisms that are co-opted during the evolution of parent-offspring interactions, a likely evolutionary path for many lineages that become fully social. The precursor hypothesis, while not perfect, does provide a starting point for identifying candidate genes.