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Tag: disorder

Researchers say the hyper-friendliness of dogs results from gene mutation

Researchers say they have pinpointed a gene mutation that explains why dogs are so hyper-friendly — one they believe could have played a role in their domestication.

The scientists say they have isolated two genes, variations in which lead to the hyper-friendliness and tail-wagging sociability that most dogs exhibit.

When I read the headlines I had two reactions. First, I didn’t want to believe that the love dogs display resulted from something as stark sounding as a “mutation.” Second, I decided I wanted those genes, and those mutations, inside me — and all humans.

Imagine how much better a place the world would be if we all got so excited we nearly peed when we greeted each other, covered the faces of friends and strangers with licks, and had that unconditional love and loyalty that dogs possess.

Interestingly, though, similar variations in those same genes are already inside a small number of us. The genes at issue — GTF2I and GTF2IRD1 — are the same ones that have been associated with a human disease called Williams-Beuren Syndrome (WBS), which causes developmental disabilities and many other health issues.

The condition is characterized by mild to moderate intellectual disability, unusual facial features, cardiovascular problems and other health issues. But it also can often lead to affected individuals having highly outgoing, engaging personalities and extreme interest in other people.

Having written about people with developmental disabilities for eight years as a reporter, I met more than a few people like that — in institutions, group homes, and living with their families. They’d come up and hug a complete stranger. They’d follow me around, paying attention to everything I did and said. They seemed to indiscriminately love everybody. They were hard to say goodbye to.

I didn’t know it was a result of their Williams-Beuren syndrome, or that there even was a Williams-Beuren syndrome (this was the 1980’s), just that they possessed an innocence and trust uncommon in our species. I can’t remember if, at the time, I saw that behavior as “dog-like.”

But some researchers did.

vonholdtBridgett vonHoldt, an evolutionary geneticist at Princeton University, and Monique Udell, who studies animal behavior at Oregon State University, met three years ago and started talking about dogs.

In an earlier study, vonHoldt had identified a gene that’s mutated more often in dogs than wolves — one that possibly led to their domestication.

Together, Udell and vonHoldt decided to examine the social behavior of a group of dogs and a group of wolves and then analyze their DNA in the region that included the genes in question.

The study they co-authored, using a combination of genetic sequencing and behavioral tests, pinpointed a couple genetic differences that seem to track with friendliness.

Using 16 dogs and eight captive, socialized wolves, they were able to establish that the dogs showed a greater variation, or mutation, of those genes. Animals with these mutations appeared to pay more attention to the humans than those without, the researchers said.

“We find that hyper-sociability, a central feature of WBS, is also a core element of domestication that distinguishes dogs from wolves,” the study concluded.

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The findings, in addition to providing new insights into the human disorder, could explain a large part of what led wolves to become domesticated, and how dogs evolved to become man’s best friend.

To learn more about the study, check out these reports from the
Los Angeles Times, Science and Princeton University.

(Photos: At top, Bridgett vonHoldt, an assistant professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton and the study’s lead co-author, cuddles with her Old English Sheepdog, Marla, by Chris Fascenelli, Princeton University Office of Communications; at bottom, Lauren Brubaker, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences at Oregon State University and one of the study’s authors, interacts with a gray wolf, by Monty Sloan, via Princeton University Office of Communications)

Why some dogs chase their tails

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Why do some dogs seem so obsessed with chasing their tails?

Researchers at Bristol University in the UK have entered the second phase of a study aimed at finding the answer.

Scientists from the two-year “Bristol Spinning Dog Project” will visit the homes of the 50 non-spinning dogs to collect urine samples and cheek swabs, and complete training tasks aimed at assessing the pet’s personality and ability to learn, The Independent reports.

In the first phase of the study, the researchers examined spinning dogs, delving into everything from their DNA to their environments to their personalities.

After examining dogs that chase their tails, the researchers will use the non-spinners to act as a control group.

Tail-chasing, while the topic of many a YouTube video, is likely something we shouldn’t be laughing about — out loud or otherwise — at least in those cases where the behavior is obsessive.

The researchers say reasons for the behavior aren’t fully understood — some spinning dogs may be merely seeking attention or expressing a desire to play, but spinning frequently or while alone could be a sign of frustration or a more serious disorder.

“There isn’t much information in the research literature about why dogs spin,” said Beth Loftus, one of the lead researchers. “We think this behavior develops because of personality and genetics, as well as the environment during a dog’s first 16 weeks and learning throughout life. But we don’t really know what it means for dogs’ welfare.”

“We hope to be able to identify dogs that are starting to spin and stop it from developing to the point where they are doing it almost to the complete exclusion of other, more normal types of behavior,” she added.

The research is being funded by the Dogs Trust charity.

(Photo : Flickr Commons / Tim Mowrer)

D-O-Gs with OCD could help further understanding of the disorder in humans

dobermanWith all the research into how the medical issues of dogs often run parallel to our own, it’s no surprise that eight obsessive-compulsive Doberman pinschers are adding to our body of knowledge about that disorder.

A new study made use of MRI brain scans and found dogs and people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) have similar brain abnormalities and share certain brain characteristics.

Three years ago, researchers found the shared gene believed responsible for flank-sucking, blanket-sucking and other compulsive behavior in Dobermans.

The new study shows what’s going on in their brains is similar — at least as an MRI sees it — to what’s going on in our’s.

“We have a lot of commonality with our best friend the dog,” said study leader Niwako Ogata, an assistant professor of animal behavior at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine in Indiana.

Just as elderly dogs with the canine equivalent of Alzheimer’s are being used as models to understand the degenerative disease in people, studying dogs is providing some clues into OCD, an anxiety disorder afflicting anywhere from 2 to 8 percent of Americans.

For the study, Ogata and colleagues recruited eight Doberman pinschers with CCD (canine compulsive disorder) and a control group of eight Dobermans without CCD, according to National Geographic. The team obtained MRI scans for each group and discovered that the CCD dogs had higher total brain and gray matter volumes and lower gray matter densities in certain parts of the brain. That’s similar to the structures of people brains’ with OCD.

It’s not known why both species’ brains show these features, Ogata said, but her team plans to repeat the experiment with more dogs and more breeds.

The team chose Dobermans because of the prevalence of CCD in the breed. About  28 percent of  Dobermans in the U.S. are afflicted.

People with OCD often perform the same rituals over and over again, like washing and rewashing their hands and locking and relocking doors. In dogs, common compulsive behaviors include paw-licking and tail-chasing.

Ogata, whose study was published online in April in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, said the study provides a better idea of “”how brains develop, and when and how genes interact with [their] environment to cause some behavior problems for both humans and dogs.”

Doggie OCD may provide clues for humans

Scientists studying compulsive behaviors in Doberman pinschers have located a gene they believe is associated with OCD — a finding that could lead to pinpointing a genetic source of obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans.

In dogs, compulsive behavior includes tail chasing, licking their legs until they develop infections, and pacing and circling — canine versions, perhaps, of repeated hand washing and other behaviors displayed by the 2.2 million Americans estimated to be affected by the disorder.

The Doberman study was done by researchers at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, and the Broad Institute, according to the Boston Globe.

Scientists took samples from 92 Doberman pinschers that displayed compulsive behavior. Dogs with the disorder compulsively suck their flanks or blankets. Researchers also used samples from 68 normal dogs, and did a genome-wide scan, searching for spots that varied between the two samples.

They found a genetic hot spot in dogs with the compulsive behavior — within in a gene called Cadherin 2, known to be active in the brain and in a family of genes recently implicated in autism.

Dr. Dennis Murphy, a laboratory chief in the National Institute of Mental Health, said he is working to follow the research by studying the same gene in more than 300 human patients with OCD, 400 of their relatives, and about 600 people without OCD.

“Identifying a specific gene that could be a candidate gene for a complex disorder like OCD is a gift to have,’’ Murphy said. “This might be a quick route in to a meaningful gene that just could be involved in the human disorder, as well.’’

Franken seeks more service dogs for war vets

frankenWe liked him as a comedian, and early indications are we’ll like him as a politician — not that we see too vast a difference between the two.

In his first piece of legislation as Minnesota’s junior senator, Al Franken is trying to expand the number of service dogs available to wounded veterans.

In an opinion piece published Monday in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Franken proposed a pilot program that will train “a statistically significant number of dogs,” put them to work and measure the benefits they provide to veterans living with devastating war injuries.

Franken believes the dogs’ companionship provides invaluable health benefits — both physical and emotional — to veterans suffering from debilitating injuries and psychological disorders.

The service dogs will help “reduce the suicide rate among veterans, decrease the number of hospitalizations and lower the cost of medications and human care,” he said.

Franken’s said the legislation was inspired by a meeting he had last January with a wounded former Iraqi intelligence officer and his golden retriever, “Tuesday.”

“Service dogs like Tuesday can be of immense benefit to vets suffering from physical and emotional wounds,” wrote Franken.

Franken said service dogs typically cost about $20,000 to train and another $5,000 to place with a veteran — a cost that is well worth the investment.

“It is my strong belief that a service dog will more than pay for itself over its life, and my bill is designed to determine the return on investment with a pilot program that provides service dogs to hundreds of veterans,” said Franken.

Franken’s bill would be his first piece of legislation since officially becoming a senator on July 7.

Scientists trace golden retriever disorder

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Scientists in Sweden have tracked down the source of sensory ataxic neuropathy (SAN) — a recently identified neurological disorder in golden retrievers.

The disease strikes goldens in puppyhood, causing them to move in an uncoordinated manner and have sensory deficits.

The researchers were able to trace back all affected offspring on the maternal side, over more than 10 generations, to a female that lived during the 1970s, confirming that SAN is caused by a mutation in the mitochondrial DNA.

The study by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala University and the Karolinska Institutet was published May 29 in the journal PLoS Genetics.

The researchers showed that about five percent of the golden retriever population in Sweden carries the mutation causing SAN — and that, with proper screening by breeders, the disorder could be eliminated.

“This is a good example of how a close collaboration between clinicians and geneticists led to a rapid detection of a harmful mutation that can now be eliminated from this dog population to reduce suffering and disease,” said co-author Karin Hultin Jäderlund.

Come again? Dog hearing aid is in the works

A University of Cincinnati researcher says the canine hearing aid he is developing may be ready for the market by the end of this year.

Pete Scheifele began working on a hearing aid for dogs after his own 17-year-old dog — a miniature pinscher/beagle mix — lost his hearing.

The highly trained dog has appeared on television and performed for schools and didn’t seem to mind wearing the prototype. In fact, he would seek it out and nudge it when he wasn’t wearing it, Scheifele says.

Researchers are now working on modifications to make the prototype version smaller and more comfortable, according to a report in DVM 360.

The hearing aid would only work on dogs with acquired hearing loss, according to Scheifele, Director of UC’s Bioacoustics and Canine Audiology Clinic.

Scheifele says he is in discussions for commercialization of the prototype and hopes it might be available for sale later this year.

(Photo: Courtesy of University of Cincinnati)