Within populations, some individuals tend to exhibit a bold or shy social behavior phenotype relative to the mean. The neural underpinnings of these differing phenotypes — also described as syndromes, personalities, and coping styles — is an area of ongoing investigation. Although a social decision-making network has been described across vertebrate taxa, most studies examining activity within this network do so in relation to exhibited differences in behavioral expression. Our study instead focuses on constitutive gene expression in bold and shy individuals by isolating baseline gene expression profiles that influence social boldness predisposition, rather than those reflecting the results of social interaction and behavioral execution. We performed this study on male green anole lizards (Anolis carolinensis), an established model organism for behavioral research, which provides a crucial comparison group to investigations of birds and mammals. After identifying subjects as bold or shy through repeated reproductive and agonistic behavior testing, we used RNA sequencing to compare gene expression profiles between these groups within various forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain regions. The ventromedial hypothalamus had the largest group differences in gene expression, with bold males having increased expression of calcium channels and neuroendocrine receptor genes compared to shy males. Conversely, shy males express more integrin alpha-10 in the majority of examined regions. There were no significant group differences in physiology or hormone levels. Our results highlight the ventromedial hypothalamus as an important center of behavioral differences across individuals and provide novel candidates for investigation into the regulation of individual variation in social behavior phenotype.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience