Indeed such social behavior also has a genetic basis, according to new research on mice by neuroscientists at the University of Virginia Health System. "The differences in sex chromosomes, XX versus XY, are also responsible for differences in adult behavior," explained Emilie Rissman, PhD, a professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at UVa, who studied aggression and maternal behavior in genetically engineered mice. "Sex chromosome genes may not be the whole story that determines how aggressive or motherly we are, but they are a partof it."
Rissman's work is published in the Feb. 22 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, found online at www.jneurosci.org. Co-authors on the paper are scientists at the University of California Los Angeles and the National Institute for Medical Research in London, England.
Using mouse models, Rissman and the research team uncoupled the testis-determining gene Sry on the male Y chromosome from other sex chromosome genes. The presence of Sry leads to the development of the testes and high levels of androgens in males, which is partly responsible for aggression. Sry was deleted from the Y chromosome and replaced by a transgenic copy.
In their experiments, the researchers compared mice with or without the Sry gene (either males with testes or ovary-bearing females) to mice with the XX versus XY sex chromosomes. They tested how long it took for mice to become aggressive when another mouse was placed in their home territory. The researchers also clocked the time it took to exhibit spontaneous parental behavior by retrieving a pup.