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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Functional evolution of the trace amine associated receptors in mammals and the loss of TAAR1 in dogs

Eric J Vallender*, Zhihua Xie, Susan V Westmoreland and Gregory M Miller

Author Affiliations

New England Primate Research Center, Harvard Medical School, One Pine Hill Drive, Southborough, MA 01772, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:51  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-51

Published: 18 February 2010



The trace amine associated receptor family is a diverse array of GPCRs that arose before the first vertebrates walked on land. Trace amine associated receptor 1 (TAAR1) is a wide spectrum aminergic receptor that acts as a modulator in brain monoaminergic systems. Other trace amine associated receptors appear to relate to environmental perception and show a birth-and-death pattern in mammals similar to olfactory receptors.


Across mammals, avians, and amphibians, the TAAR1 gene is intact and appears to be under strong purifying selection based on rates of amino acid fixation compared to neutral mutations. We have found that in dogs it has become a pseudogene. Our analyses using a comparative genetics approach revealed that the pseudogenization event predated the emergence of the Canini tribe rather than being coincident with canine domestication. By assessing the effects of the TAAR1 agonist β-phenylethylamine on [3H]dopamine uptake in canine striatal synaptosomes and comparing the degree and pattern of uptake inhibition to that seen in other mammals, including TAAR1 knockout mice, wild type mice and rhesus monkey, we found that the TAAR1 pseudogenization event resulted in an uncompensated loss of function.


The gene family has seen expansions among certain mammals, notably rodents, and reductions in others, including primates. By placing the trace amine associated receptors in an evolutionary context we can better understand their function and their potential associations with behavior and neurological disease.