A study of fear and aggression in dogs has shed light on the genetic roots of anxiety.
Researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital have identified 12 genes linked to certain types of fear and aggression in dogs. More specifically, the researchers found that dogs' tendencies toward aggression directed at familiar humans or dogs is genetically distinct from fear and aggression directed at unfamiliar humans and dogs.
"Our strongest focus is on specific genes related to aggression toward unfamiliar humans and dogs, which are associated with highly relevant genes at two genome regions...Those genes are consistent with the core fear and aggression neural pathway known as the amygdala to hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis," says Carlos Alvarez, PhD, of the Center for Molecular and Human Genetics in the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
The study's findings are significant for both veterinary behavioral medicine and human medicine. On the veterinary side, the research will help scientists develop genetic tests to assess the likelihood of certain types of fear and aggression in dogs. On the human side, the research adds to a growing body of knowledge about anxiety disorders in children and adults.
As scientists begin to understand more about which neuronal circuits are most at play, they will be able to identify drug targets within affected biochemical pathways. By inhibiting or activating those targets, they will be able to manipulate the emotional and behavioral effects of the therapies.
With owner consent, veterinarians can test the therapies in pet dog patients. If the results are good, the therapies can eventually be applied to humans with related conditions. Furthermore, as researchers learn more about the biochemical pathways that play a key role in fear and aggression, they will be able to identify patients with the greatest likelihood of a positive response to treatment.
According to Dr. Alvarez, this is only the beginning.
"We are continuing to identify and validate other genes associated with these traits, including the expansion of dog breeds studied and biological validation of the findings. We are excited about what this work will continue to uncover."
You can read more about this groundbreaking veterinary research, and its implications for human medicine, here.
What do you think of these findings? Let us know in the comments below.
WATCH NOW: Major Dog Toys Are Built to Last