How humans have shaped dogs’ brains

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Puppies of various dog breeds (stock image).
Credit: © Rawpixel.com / Adobe Stock

Dog brain structure varies across breeds and is correlated with specific behaviors, according to new research published in JNeurosci. These findings show how, by selectively breeding for certain behaviors, humans have shaped the brains of their best friends.

Over several hundred years, humans have selectively bred dogs to express specific physical and behavioral characteristics. Erin Hecht and colleagues investigated the effects of this selective pressure on brain structure by analyzing magnetic resonance imaging scans of 33 dog breeds. The research team observed wide variation in brain structure that was not simply related to body size or head shape.

The team then examined the areas of the brain with the most variation across breeds. This generated maps of six brain networks, with proposed functions varying from social bonding to movement, that were each associated with at least one behavioral characteristic. The variation in behaviors across breeds was correlated with anatomical variation in the six brain networks.

Studying the neuroanatomical variation in dogs offers a unique opportunity to study the evolutionary relationship between brain structure and behavior.

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The article, “Significant Neuroanatomical Variation Among Domestic Dog Breeds,” appears online Sept. 2, 2019 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Authors: Erin E. Hecht, PhD., Harvard University; Jeroen B. Smaers, PhD., Stony Brook University; William J. Dunn, Michigan State University; Marc Kent, DVM, DACVIM, The University of Georgia at Athens; Todd M. Preuss, PhD., Emory University; and David A. Gutman, M.D., PhD., Emory University.

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Materials provided by Society for Neuroscience. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Erin E. Hecht, Jeroen B. Smaers, William J. Dunn, Marc Kent, Todd M. Preuss, David A. Gutman. Significant neuroanatomical variation among domestic dog breeds. The Journal of Neuroscience, 2019; 0303-19 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0303-19.2019

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