Inheritance of acquired behaviour adaptations and brain gene expression in chickens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


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.


  • Daniel Nätt
  • Niclas Lindqvist
  • Henrik Stranneheim
  • Joakim Lundeberg
  • Peter A Torjesen
  • Per Jensen
External organisations
  • Linköping University
  • KTH Royal Institute of Technology
  • Aker University Hospital
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere6405
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2009 Jul 28
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes