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Fatherhood alters gene expression within the MPOA

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Female parenting is obligate in mammals, but fathering behavior among mammals is rare. Only 3-5% of mammalian species exhibit biparental care, including humans, and mechanisms of fathering behavior remain sparsely studied. However, in species where it does exist, paternal care is often crucial to the survivorship of offspring. The present study is the first to identify new gene targets linked to the experience of fathering behavior in a biparental species using RNA sequencing. In order to determine the pattern of gene expression within the medial preoptic area that is specifically associated with fathering behavior, we identified genes in male prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) that experienced one of three social conditions: virgin males, pair bonded males, and males with fathering experience. A list of genes exhibiting different expression patterns in each comparison (i.e. Virgin vs Paired, Virgin vs Fathers, and Paired vs Fathers) was evaluated using the gene ontology enrichment analysis, and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes pathways analysis to reveal metabolic pathways associated with specific genes. Using these tools, we generated a filtered list of genes that exhibited altered patterns of expression in voles with different amounts of social experience. Finally, we used NanoString to quantify differences in the expression of these selected genes. These genes are involved in a variety of processes, with enrichment in genes associated with immune function, metabolism, synaptic plasticity, and the remodeling of dendritic spines. The identification of these genes and processes will lead to novel insights into the biological basis of fathering behavior.

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