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Genes Brain Behav 2019 Mar; 18(3):e12519







Sensation seeking is a multifaceted, heritable trait which predicts the development of substance use and abuse in humans; similar phenomena have been observed in rodents. Genetic correlations among sensation seeking and substance use indicate shared biological mechanisms, but the genes and networks underlying these relationships remain elusive. Here, we used a systems genetics approach in the BXD recombinant inbred mouse panel to identify shared genetic mechanisms underlying substance use and preference for sensory stimuli, an intermediate phenotype of sensation seeking. Using the operant sensation seeking (OSS) paradigm, we quantified preference for sensory stimuli in 120 male and 127 female mice from 62 BXD strains and the C57BL/6J and DBA/2J founder strains. We used relative preference for the active and inactive levers to dissociate preference for sensory stimuli from locomotion and exploration phenotypes. We identified genomic regions on chromosome 4 (155.236-155.742 Mb) and chromosome 13 (72.969-89.423 Mb) associated with distinct behavioral components of OSS. Using publicly available behavioral data and mRNA expression data from brain regions involved in reward processing, we identified (a) genes within these behavioral QTL exhibiting genome-wide significant cis-eQTL and (b) genetic correlations among OSS phenotypes, ethanol phenotypes and mRNA expression. From these analyses, we nominated positional candidates for behavioral QTL associated with distinct OSS phenotypes including Gnb1 and Mef2c. Genetic covariation of Gnb1 expression, preference for sensory stimuli and multiple ethanol phenotypes suggest that heritable variation in Gnb1 expression in reward circuitry partially underlies the widely reported relationship between sensation seeking and substance use.


We thank Vivek M. Philip for statistical advice, Andrew Gallup and Summitt Liu for assistance with data collection, and Xochitl Ortiz Ross for assistance with figure creation.

Open access under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License