The number of neurons in specific amygdala regions is associated with boldness in mink: a study in animal personality

Abstract

Conspecifics vary consistently in their behavioural responses towards environment stimuli such as exposure to novel objects; ethologists often refer to this variability as animal personality. The neurological mechanisms underlying animal personality traits remain largely unknown, but linking the individual variation in emotional expression to brain structural and neurochemical factors is attracting renewed interest. While considerable research has focused on hormonal and neurotransmitter effects on behavioural responses, less is known about how individual variation in the number of specific neuron populations contributes to individual variation in behaviour. The basolateral amygdala (BLA) and the central nuclei of the amygdala (CeA) mediate emotional processing by regulating behavioural responses of animals in a potentially threatening situation. As such, these structures are good candidates for evaluating the relationship between neuronal populations and behavioural traits. We now show that individual American mink (Neovison vison) reacting more boldly towards novelty have more neurons in the BLA than do their more timid conspecifics, suggesting that a developmental pattern of the number of amygdala neurons can influence behavioural traits of an adult animal. Furthermore, post hoc correlations revealed that individuals performing with higher arousal, as reflected by their frequency of startle behaviour, have more CeA neurons. Our results support a direct link between the number of neurons in amygdala regions and aspects of animal personality.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Inglewood Biomedical Editing for expert assistance in preparing the manuscript, and Susanne Sørensen at the Research laboratory for Stereology and Neuroscience for expert technical assistance on histological handling of the tissue.

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Correspondence to Esther Kjær Needham.

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Wiese, A., Needham, E.K., Noer, C.L. et al. The number of neurons in specific amygdala regions is associated with boldness in mink: a study in animal personality. Brain Struct Funct 223, 1989–1998 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-018-1606-4

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Keywords

  • Animal personality
  • Amygdala
  • Stereology
  • Mink