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PLoS Genet. 2013 Aug;9(8):e1003729. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003729. Epub 2013 Aug 29.

The relative contribution of proximal 5' flanking sequence and microsatellite variation on brain vasopressin 1a receptor (Avpr1a) gene expression and behavior.

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Division of Integrative Neuroscience, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University, New York, New York, United States of America.


Certain genes exhibit notable diversity in their expression patterns both within and between species. One such gene is the vasopressin receptor 1a gene (Avpr1a), which exhibits striking differences in neural expression patterns that are responsible for mediating differences in vasopressin-mediated social behaviors. The genomic mechanisms that contribute to these remarkable differences in expression are not well understood. Previous work has suggested that both the proximal 5' flanking region and a polymorphic microsatellite element within that region of the vole Avpr1a gene are associated with variation in V1a receptor (V1aR) distribution and behavior, but neither has been causally linked. Using homologous recombination in mice, we reveal the modest contribution of proximal 5' flanking sequences to species differences in V1aR distribution, and confirm that variation in V1aR distribution impacts stress-coping in the forced swim test. We also demonstrate that the vole Avpr1a microsatellite structure contributes to Avpr1a expression in the amygdala, thalamus, and hippocampus, mirroring a subset of the inter- and intra-species differences observed in central V1aR patterns in voles. This is the first direct evidence that polymorphic microsatellite elements near behaviorally relevant genes can contribute to diversity in brain gene expression profiles, providing a mechanism for generating behavioral diversity both at the individual and species level. However, our results suggest that many features of species-specific expression patterns are mediated by elements outside of the immediate 5' flanking region of the gene.

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