Common variations in the pretest environment influence genotypic comparisons in models of anxiety

G S Izídio, D M Lopes, L Spricigo, A Ramos
Genes, Brain, and Behavior 2005, 4 (7): 412-9
The behavioral characterization of rodent strains in different studies and laboratories can provide unreplicable results even when genotypes are kept constant and environmental control is maximized. In the present study, the influence of common laboratory environmental variables and their interaction with genotype on the results of behavioral tests of anxiety/emotionality were investigated. To this end, the inbred rat strains Lewis (LEW) and spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR), which are known to differ for numerous emotionality-related behaviors, were tested in the open field (OF), elevated plus maze (EPM) and black/white box (BWB), while three environmental factors were systematically controlled and analyzed: (1) the experimenter handling the animal (familiar or unfamiliar); (2) the position of the home cage (top or bottom shelf of the rack) and (3) the behavioral state of the animal immediately before the test (arousal or rest). Experimenter familiarity did not alter the behavior of rats in the OF. Cage position, on the other hand, influenced the behavior in the OF and BWB, with rats housed in top cages appearing less anxious than those housed in the bottom. In the BWB (but not in the OF), these effects were genotype dependent. Finally, the behavioral state of the animals prior to testing altered the results of the EPM in a strain-dependent manner, with some anxiety-related genotypic differences being found only among rats that were aroused in their home cages. This study showed that common variations in the laboratory environment interact with genotype in behavioral tests of anxiety/emotionality. Recognizing and understanding such variations can help in the design of more effective experiments.

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