News Release

Breeding foxes for opposite behaviors produces similar brain changes

Tame and aggressive foxes display increased size in similar brain regions, contrary to theory

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Society for Neuroscience

Breeding Foxes for Opposite Behaviors Produces Similar Brain Changes

image: A fox from the Russian fox-farm experiment. view more 

Credit: Jennifer Johnson, Darya Shepeleva, and Anna Kukekova.

Farmed foxes selectively bred for tameness and aggressiveness exhibit similar changes to their brain anatomy, according to research recently published in JNeurosci. Both lineages also have larger brains than conventional farm-bred foxes, complicating leading theories on domestication.

Domesticated species provide insight into complex evolutionary processes on a condensed timeframe. When a species splits from its wild counterpart, its brain, body, and behavior undergo rapid changes. Studies with chickens, sheep, cats, dogs, and more indicate domestication shrinks the brain. But the same pattern does not extend to foxes in the expected way.

Hecht et al. used MRI to measure the brain size and structure of foxes from the classic Russian fox-farm experiment. The research team compared foxes selectively bred for tameness or aggression toward humans with conventional farm-bred wild foxes (the control). Contrary to previous studies, both tame and aggressive strains had larger brains than the conventional, "wild" foxes. The tame and aggressive foxes also displayed similar changes to regions in the prefrontal cortex, despite being bred for opposite behaviors. These results illuminate a need to rethink how brain circuits relate to behavior evolution as well as how domestication shapes the brain.


Paper title: Neuromorphological Changes Following Selection for Tameness and Aggression in the Russian Fox-Farm Experiment

About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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