How domestication changed rabbits’ brains

Study sizes up differences in the ‘fear centers’ of wild and tame bunnies

wild and domesticated rabbits

RABBIT REMODELING Domestication of wild rabbits (left) physically changed the animals over time, including their brains. A domesticated rabbit is shown on the right.

FranciscoMarques/shutterstock (left); Grigorita Ko/shutterstock (right)

Domestic rabbits have smaller brains relative to their body size than wild rabbits do, a new study determined. And that’s not the only change getting tamed by humans wrought on bunny brains.

Two “fear centers” are the most altered brain regions between wild and domestic rabbits. Domestic rabbits have smaller amygdalae (emotion-processing centers that play a key role in the fight-or-flight response) and larger medial prefrontal cortices (thought to be involved in social behavior) than wild rabbits, an international group of researchers report online June 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Changes to the brain regions may have produced animals less fearful of humans.

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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