Animal domestication is a model of a rapid evolutionary process. In experimental fox domestication, the time required for the emergence and fixation of specific evolutionary changes was reduced from thousands to tens of years, compared to historical domestication. Tame foxes were obtained by extreme selective breeding for emotionally positive response toward humans. Unselected foxes, as well as foxes bred for enhanced aggressiveness to humans were used as control. Epigenetic regulation of gene expression is considered as one of the possible mechanisms of rapid evolution. In this study, expression of DNA methyltransferase genes, DNMT1 and DNMT3A, was investigated. It was demonstrated that, in tame foxes, the level of DNMT3A gene expression in the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and spleen was increased by more than 2 times in comparison with aggressive and unselected foxes. At the same time, the DNMT1 expression level did not differ among the studied groups of animals. A possible reason for the differences found in the DNMT3A expression could be the changes in the level and metabolism of methionine, which serves as a donor of methyl groups during DNA methylation. However, this study showed that there were no differences in the serum methionine levels between tame, unselected, and aggressive foxes. Thus, the data support the hypothesis that selection for positive emotional response toward humans affected the DNA methylation machinery.
- selection for behavior