Background: Environmental challenges may affect both the exposed individuals and their offspring. We investigated possible adaptive aspects of such cross-generation transmissions, and hypothesized that chronic unpredictable food access would cause chickens to show a more conservative feeding strategy and to be more dominant, and that these adaptations would be transmitted to the offspring.
Methodology/Principal Findings: Parents were raised in an unpredictable (UL) or in predictable diurnal light rhythm (PL, 12:12 h light:dark). In a foraging test, UL birds pecked more at freely available, rather than at hidden and more attractive food, compared to birds from the PL group. Female offspring of UL birds, raised in predictable light conditions without parental contact, showed a similar foraging behavior, differing from offspring of PL birds. Furthermore, adult offspring of UL birds performed more food pecks in a dominance test, showed a higher preference for high energy food, survived better, and were heavier than offspring of PL parents. Using cDNA microarrays, we found that the differential brain gene expression caused by the challenge was mirrored in the offspring. In particular, several immunoglobulin genes seemed to be affected similarly in both UL parents and their offspring. Estradiol levels were significantly higher in egg yolk from UL birds, suggesting one possible mechanism for these effects.
Conclusions/Significance: Our findings suggest that unpredictable food access caused seemingly adaptive responses in feeding behavior, which may have been transmitted to the offspring by means of epigenetic mechanisms, including regulation of immune genes. This may have prepared the offspring for coping with an unpredictable environment.
Citation: Nätt D, Lindqvist N, Stranneheim H, Lundeberg J, Torjesen PA, et al. (2009) Inheritance of Acquired Behaviour Adaptations and Brain Gene Expression in Chickens. PLoS ONE 4(7): e6405. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006405
Editor: Tom Pizzari, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Received: March 26, 2009; Accepted: June 30, 2009; Published: July 28, 2009
Copyright: © 2009 Nätt et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Funding: This project was funded by the Swedish Research Council (VR; www.vr.se; grant nrs 50280101 and 50280102) and the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (Formas; www.formas.se; grant no 221-2005-270). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the mauscript.
Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
2009. Vol. 4, no 7, e6405- p.
Daniel Nätt, Niclas Lindqvist, Henrik Stranneheim, Joakim Lundeberg, Peter A. Torjesen and Per Jensen, Inheritance of Acquired Behaviour Adaptions and Brain Gene Expression in Chickens, 2009, PLoS ONE, (4), 7, e6405.