Regions associated with canine noise sensitivity and fear overlap human neuropsychiatric loci

Presenter Riika Sarviaho
Authors Riika Sarviaho (1,2,3), Osmo Hakosalo (1,2,3), Katriina Tiira (1,2,3), Sini Sulkama (1,2,3), Elina Salmela (1,2,3), Marjo Hytönen (1,2,3), Mikko Sillanpää (4), Hannes Lohi (1,2,3)
Affiliations 1. Department of Veterinary Biosciences, University of Helsinki, Finland, 2. Research Programs Unit, Molecular Neurology, University of Helsinki, Finland, 3. The Folkhälsan Institute of Genetics, Helsinki, Finland, 4. Department of Mathematical Sciences and Biocenter Oulu, University of Oulu, Finland
Presentation Type Poster


Introduction: Fear is an evolutionarily important emotional state that is essential for the survival of an individual. However, extreme fearfulness can cause several behavioural problems. Dogs suffer from various naturally occurring breed-specific anxieties, such as generalized anxiety disorders, different phobias, and separation anxiety. In order to better understand the genetics of fearful behaviour in dogs, we aimed to find new loci related to anxiety and fear in German Shepherds.
Materials and Methods: A total of 330 German Shepherd dogs were phenotyped for two traits, noise sensitivity (NS) and fear towards novel humans and situations (fear) using our validated behavioral survey. For each dog, a quantitative score describing the severity of the phenotype was calculated. The scores for NS ranged from 0 to 60 and the scores for fear from 0 to 13.5, with 0 indicating a control in both cohorts. The dogs were genotyped using Illumina’s canine HD SNP arrays and analysed for phenotype-genotype associations using both case-control (PLINK) and quantitative (GenABEL) analysis approaches.
Results: Genomic regions on CFA 20 and CFA 7 were significantly associated with NS and fear, respectively. The NS locus includes several known anxiety and hearing-related genes, such as GRM7 and OXTR that encode glutamate and oxytocin receptor genes. The fear locus was syntenic to a locus on human 18p11 that has been linked to psychiatric illnesses and includes several interesting candidate genes.
Conclusions: The findings revealed two new fear and anxiety loci in dogs. Both loci include several relevant candidate genes and regions that have been associated with human anxieties and neuropsychiatric disorders. Further replication studies and investigation of the causative variants within the loci have a potential to shed light on the biological basis of fear and anxiety in both species.