Emory researchers have generated the first transgenic prairie voles, a key step toward unlocking the genetic secrets of pair bonding. The advancement by Emory's Yerkes National Primate Research Center will enable scientists to perform genetic manipulations to help identify the brain mechanisms of complex social behaviors. The work, in the current issue of the Biology of Reproduction, may also have important implications for understanding and treating psychiatric disorders associated with impairments in social behavior.
The prairie vole is a naturally occurring monogamous rodent that is being used to discover the brain mechanisms underlying monogamous pair bonds.
"Domesticated lab rats and mice dominate biomedical research, but wild rodent species with more complex social behaviors are better suited for investigating the biology of the social brain. Until now, genetic engineering among rodents has been limited to lab mice and rats," says Zoe Donaldson, the lead researcher.
Watch a video of Donaldson explaining the process of creating the transgenic vole.
Single-cell prairie vole embryos were injected with a lentivirus containing a gene found in glowing jellyfish. The gene encodes a green fluorescent protein, which glows under the appropriate conditions. The prairie vole that developed from this embryo expressed the green fluorescent protein throughout its body, and the foreign gene was passed on to the offspring for multiple generations.
Larry Young, a senior investigator on the study and an expert in social behavior, will use this technology to determine whether monogamy and its associated social behaviors can be affected by manipulating a single gene. Researchers are also investigating ways to refine this technology in order to alter gene expression in certain brain regions as well as at certain developmental milestones.
Watch a talk by Young, featured speaker at Vole Conference 2009.
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