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A genome-wide association study of Great Danes has pointed to a genomic region on chromosome 11 as being associated with fearfulness.

Researchers from the University of Helsinki collected data on fearfulness among dogs using a validated survey and genetic samples. As they report in Translational Psychiatry, they analyzed data from 124 Great Danes to find a locus on chromosome 11 that was associated with behaviors such as being afraid of strangers. Through the GWAS and additional sequencing, the researchers homed in on candidate variants in RACK1, MAPK9/JNK2, N4BP3, and NHP2 as linked to fearfulness. RACK1 is involved in the regulation of neuronal development, the researchers note, while MAPK9/JNK2 is a known hippocampal regulator of anxiety.

"Previous studies have suggested that canine anxiety and fearfulness could correspond with anxiety disorder in humans," senior author Hannes Lohi from Helsinki says in a statement. "In fact, investigating fearfulness in dogs may also shed more light on human anxiety disorders and help [us] understand their genetic background."