Within many species, some individuals are consistently more aggressive than others. We examine whether there are differences in brain gene expression between aggressive versus nonaggressive behavioural types of individuals within a natural population of male three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus). We compared gene expression profiles of aggressive male sticklebacks to nonaggressive males in four regions of the brain (brainstem, cerebellum, diencephalon and telencephalon). Relatively few genes were differentially expressed between behavioural types in telencephalon, cerebellum and diencephalon, but hundreds of genes were differentially expressed in brainstem, a brain area involved in detecting threats. Six genes that were differentially expressed in response to a territorial intrusion in a previous study were also differentially expressed between behavioural types in this study, implying primarily non-shared but some shared molecular mechanisms. Our findings offer new insights into the molecular causes and correlates of behavioural plasticity and individual variation in behaviour.
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