The evolutionary history of SLC6A4 and the role of plasticity in macaca

Milena R. Shattuck, Jessica Satkoski-Trask, Amos Deinard, Raul Y. Tito, David G. Smith, Ripan S. Malhi

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4 Scopus citations


Serotonin has been repeatedly indicated as a biological marker of behavior. In particular, the serotonin transporter gene, SLC6A4, has been the focus of a large body of research. Interestingly, both rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) and humans have independently evolved a number of shared polymorphisms for this gene, which is indicative of parallel evolution between the two species. However, little is known about the evolution of this gene, particularly within macaques. Although there are several hypotheses as to the adaptive values of various polymorphisms, few authors have gone beyond theoretical discussion. Here, we examined the genetic variation in SLC6A4 within and between several species of macaques and investigate whether selection has played a significant role in its evolutionary history. In addition, we assayed the promoter region polymorphism, 5-HTTLPR, which is known to play a significant role in regulating both serotonin turnover and behavior. In examining the distribution of the 5-HTTLPR polymorphism, we identified significant differences between Indian and Chinese populations of Macaca mulatta; furthermore, we discovered its presence in Macaca cyclopis, which has not been described before. In regard to the evolutionary history of SLC6A4, we found little evidence for selection and conclude that SLC6A4 largely evolved through neutral processes, possibly due to its potential role in regulating behavioral plasticity. However, we also found very low levels of linkage between the coding regions and 5-HTTLPR. Because we limited evolutionary analyses to the coding regions, it is possible that the promoter region shows a distinct evolutionary history from SLC6A4. Am J Phys Anthropol 153:605-616, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)605-616
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • behavior
  • genes
  • natural selection
  • serotonin


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