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STUDY: As humans shaped dogs’ bodies, we also altered their brains

Not only do the shapes and sizes of canine brains vary by breed, the structures within those brains also are different. This discovery helps explain what makes a Maltese act like a Maltese, or a Boxer like a Boxer.

JASON BITTEL: ‘Over at least 15,000 years, and especially since a Victorian-era dog-creation craze, selective breeding by humans has resulted in a single species with more physical variation than almost any other in the animal kingdom. And now, scientists have provided the first evidence that all of this selective tweaking hasn’t just changed dogs’ sizes, shapes, colors and behaviors – it’s also altered the way their brains are built.

Their research, published in the journal JNeurosci, began with MRI scans from 62 dogs that had visited the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital for neurological evaluations. All the dogs, representing 33 breeds, were discharged with clean bills of brain health. But their scans provided the scientists with a treasure trove of data…

By looking at the areas of the dogs’ brains that varied most across the breeds, the scientists were able to create maps of six neural networks linked to certain functions, such as the sense of smell or movement. The team found the shape of these networks “correlated significantly” with common traits associated with each breed, as described by the American Kennel Club.

“Brain anatomy varies across dog breeds,” Hecht said, “and it appears that at least some of this variation is due to selective breeding for particular behaviors like hunting, herding and guarding.” In other words, not only do the shapes and sizes of canine brains vary by breed, the structures within those brains also are different. This discovery helps explain what makes a Maltese act like a Maltese, or a Boxer like a Boxer…

Jeffrey Stevens, director of the Canine Cognition and Human Interaction Lab at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, called the study’s use of existing MRI data “clever” and its premise “exciting.” However, he offered some words of caution. “The one thing that I think there’s a bit of disagreement on in the literature and in people’s views is how useful it is to map behaviors to breeds,” Stevens said. “There’s often a lot of variation within a breed, across individuals”.’  SOURCE…

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