Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, have successfully generated the first transgenic prairie voles, an important step toward unlocking the genetic secrets of pair bonding. The future application of this technology will enable scientists to perform a host of genetic manipulations that will help identify the brain mechanisms of social bonding and other complex social behaviors. This advancement may also have important implications for understanding and treating psychiatric disorders associated with impairments in social behavior. The study is available in the December issue of Biology of Reproduction.
Lead researcher Zoe Donaldson, PhD, and her colleagues adapted transgenic technology to the prairie vole, a naturally occurring monogamous rodent that is being used to discover the brain mechanisms underlying monogamous pair bonds.
"Domesticated lab rats and mice dominate biomedical research, but wild rodent species with more complex social behaviors are better suited for investigating the biology of the social brain. Until now, genetic engineering among rodents has been limited to lab mice and rats," says Donaldson.
Single-cell prairie vole embryos were injected with a lentivirus containing a gene found in glowing jellyfish. The gene encodes a green fluorescent protein, which glows under the appropriate conditions. The prairie vole that developed from this embryo expressed the green fluorescent protein throughout its body, and the foreign gene was passed on to the offspring for multiple generations.
Larry Young, PhD, a Yerkes-based senior investigator on the study and an expert in social behavior, will next use this technology to determine whether monogamy and its associated social behaviors can be affected by manipulating a single gene. Researchers are also investigating ways to refine this technology in order to alter gene expression in certain brain regions as well as at certain developmental milestones.
For nearly eight decades, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, has been dedicated to conducting essential basic science and translational research to advance scientific understanding and to improve the health and well-being of humans and nonhuman primates. Today, the center, as one of only eight National-Institutes of Health-funded national primate research centers, provides leadership, training and resources to foster scientific creativity, collaboration and discoveries. Yerkes-based research is grounded in scientific integrity, expert knowledge, respect for colleagues, an open exchange of ideas and compassionate quality animal care.
Within the fields of microbiology, immunology, neuroscience and psychobiology, the center's research programs are seeking ways to: develop vaccines for infectious and noninfectious diseases, such as AIDS and Alzheimer's disease; treat cocaine addiction; interpret brain activity through imaging; increase understanding of progressive illnesses such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's; unlock the secrets of memory; determine behavioral effects of hormone replacement therapy; address vision disorders; and advance knowledge about the evolutionary links between biology and behavior.
The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include the Emory University School of Medicine, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, and Rollins School of Public Health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; Emory Winship Cancer Institute; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. Emory Healthcare includes: The Emory Clinic, Emory-Children's Center, Emory University Hospital, Emory University Hospital Midtown, Wesley Woods Center, and Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has $2.3 billion in operating expenses, 18,000 employees, 2,500 full-time and 1,500 affiliated faculty, 4,500 students and trainees, and a $5.7 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.