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Genetica. 2011 Mar;139(3):383-91. doi: 10.1007/s10709-011-9557-1. Epub 2011 Feb 13.

Comparative genetics of the central nervous system in epigean and hypogean Astyanax mexicanus.

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University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20707, USA.


The extreme environment of subterranean caves presents an adaptive challenge to troglobitic organisms. The mechanisms by which natural selection modify an ancestral surface neural circuit to produce a novel subterranean behavior remain a mystery. To address this question, we performed cross species microarray experiments to compare differences in gene expression levels in the adult brain of the teleost Astyanax mexicanus. This species provides a unique opportunity for comparative genetic studies as it consists of extant epigean (surface) and hypogean (cave) conspecifics. Microarray experiments herein revealed significant changes in transcription levels of seventeen genes, several of which are important for behaviors involved in metabolic management. We focused on genes central to three neurotransmission and neuromodulation networks: the endocannabinoid system (Cannabinoid receptor CB1), the dopaminergic system (Tyrosine 3-monooxygenase/tryptophan 5-monooxygenase activation protein) and the glutamatergic system (glutamate receptor AMPA 2a). All three genes were upregulated in the hypogean form of A. mexicanus compared to the epigean form, indicating that behavioral differences in the hypogean form of the species could be due to alterations in expression levels of several key genes. This information provides insights into the complex relationships among environmental factors, genetics, nervous systems and adaptive behavior, and can subsequently help us understand how these interactions affect behavior in other biological systems.

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