Genome Biol Evol 12 (10) 1918-1928 [2020-10-01; online 2020-08-25]
Domestication has resulted in immense phenotypic changes in animals despite their relatively short evolutionary history. The European rabbit is one of the most recently domesticated animals, but exhibits distinct morphological, physiological, and behavioral differences from their wild conspecifics. A previous study revealed that sequence variants with striking allele frequency differences between wild and domestic rabbits were enriched in conserved noncoding regions, in the vicinity of genes involved in nervous system development. This suggests that a large proportion of the genetic changes targeted by selection during domestication might affect gene regulation. Here, we generated RNA-sequencing data for four brain regions (amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus, and parietal/temporal cortex) sampled at birth and revealed hundreds of differentially expressed genes (DEGs) between wild and domestic rabbits. DEGs in amygdala were significantly enriched for genes associated with dopaminergic function and all 12 DEGs in this category showed higher expression in domestic rabbits. DEGs in hippocampus were enriched for genes associated with ciliary function, all 21 genes in this category showed lower expression in domestic rabbits. These results indicate an important role of dopamine signaling and ciliary function in the evolution of tameness during rabbit domestication. Our study shows that gene expression in specific pathways has been profoundly altered during domestication, but that the majority of genes showing differential expression in this study have not been the direct targets of selection.