Molecular Genetics and Genomics

, Volume 292, Issue 3, pp 685–697 | Cite as

DNA methylation patterns of behavior-related gene promoter regions dissect the gray wolf from domestic dog breeds

  • Zsofia BanlakiEmail author
  • Giulia Cimarelli
  • Zsofia Viranyi
  • Eniko Kubinyi
  • Maria Sasvari-Szekely
  • Zsolt Ronai
Original Article


A growing body of evidence highlights the relationship between epigenetics, especially DNA methylation, and population divergence as well as speciation. However, little is known about how general the phenomenon of epigenetics-wise separation of different populations is, or whether population assignment is, possible based on solely epigenetic marks. In the present study, we compared DNA methylation profiles between four different canine populations: three domestic dog breeds and their ancestor the gray wolf. Altogether, 79 CpG sites constituting the 65 so-called CpG units located in the promoter regions of genes affecting behavioral and temperamental traits (COMT, HTR1A, MAOA, OXTR, SLC6A4, TPH1, WFS1)—regions putatively targeted during domestication and breed selection. Methylation status of buccal cells was assessed using EpiTYPER technology. Significant inter-population methylation differences were found in 52.3% of all CpG units investigated. DNA methylation profile-based hierarchical cluster analysis indicated an unambiguous segregation of wolf from domestic dog. In addition, one of the three dog breeds (Golden Retriever) investigated also formed a separate, autonomous group. The findings support that population segregation is interrelated with shifts in DNA methylation patterns, at least in putative selection target regions, and also imply that epigenetic profiles could provide a sufficient basis for population assignment of individuals.


DNA methylation Canine Population assignment Domestication Behavior Promoter 



This study was funded by the National Scientific Fund of Hungary (Grant numbers OTKA ANN 107726 and OTKA K 112138), the Austrian Science Fund (Grant number FWF I 1271-B24), and the Vienna Science and Technology Fund (Grant number WWTF CS11-026). Eniko Kubinyi was supported by the Bolyai Foundation. The authors would like to thank Peter Marx for providing help with wolf sequence data collection and analysis.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All the authors declare no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

438_2017_1305_MOESM1_ESM.tif (41.9 mb)
Supplementary Fig. 1: Percent methylation of amplicons with p = 0.0001 inter-population differences in the four populations investigated. Methylation values for each individual animal are indicated. Horizontal lines represent mean values ± SD (standard deviation) (TIF 42932 KB)
438_2017_1305_MOESM2_ESM.doc (47 kb)
Supplementary Table 1 (DOC 47 KB)
438_2017_1305_MOESM3_ESM.doc (103 kb)
Supplementary Table 2 (DOC 103 KB)


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Medical Chemistry, Molecular Biology and PathobiochemistrySemmelweis UniversityBudapestHungary
  2. 2.Comparative Cognition, Messerli Research InstituteUniversity of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Medical University of Vienna, University of ViennaViennaAustria
  3. 3.Wolf Science CenterErnstbrunnAustria
  4. 4.Department of Cognitive BiologyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  5. 5.MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research GroupHungarian Academy of SciencesBudapestHungary
  6. 6.Department of EthologyEötvös Loránd UniversityBudapestHungary

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