Evaluation of exploration and risk assessment in pre-weaning mice using the novel cage test

Joana M Marques, I Anna S Olsson, Sven Ove Ogren, Kristina Dahlborn
Physiology & Behavior 2008 January 28, 93 (1): 139-47
Exploration and risk behaviour (risk assessment/risk taking) are critical to enable mice to cope with novel situations and gain control over their environment. Evaluation of those behaviours would therefore be a useful part of early phenotypic characterization of genetically modified mice, allowing early detection of behavioural phenotypes that require special attention and/or are of scientific interest. This study aimed to evaluate exploration and risk behaviour in pre-weaning mice using the novel cage test, which consists in exploration of a novel, clean, Makrolon type III cage. The results of this test were compared with those obtained in more complex and established tests to which the same mice were subjected as adolescents and young adults. Mice of two inbred strains (129S6/Bkl, n=10; C57BL/6Bkl, n=10) and one hybrid (B6CBAF1/Bkl, n=10) were used for validation of the test. The animals were tested in the novel cage (at weaning), the open field test (at 5 weeks), and from 9 weeks of age in three other tests: the elevated plus-maze, the concentric square field and the rat exposure test. The novel cage test effectively detected strain differences in pre-weaning mice as regards exploration and risk behaviour and the results were largely consistent with those obtained in the established tests later in life. In all tests 129S6 displayed a low locomotion and high risk assessment, while C57BL/6 and B6CBAF1 showed high locomotion and exploration. In addition high levels of risk taking were observed in C57BL/6. The novel cage test is rapid, requires no special equipment and is as discriminatory as more complex tests in detecting strain/genotype differences. This suggests that the novel cage test is a valuable tool for evaluation of exploration, risk assessment and risk taking in juvenile mice.

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