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Physiol Behav. 2000 Dec;71(5):509-16.

Behavioral profile of wild mice in the elevated plus-maze test for anxiety.

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Dipartimento di Biologia Evolutiva e Funzionale, Universita di Parma, Viale di Scienze, 43100, Parma, Italy.


Systematic observations of the defensive behavior of wild rodents have greatly informed the experimental study of anxiety and its neural substrates in laboratory animals. However, as the former work has been almost exclusively carried out in rats, few data are available concerning the reactivity of wild mice to standardized tests of anxiety-related behavior. In the present experiments, we employed ethological measures to examine the behavioral responses of a wild-derived population of house mice (Mus musculus) in the elevated plus-maze. In direct comparisons with laboratory Swiss mice, male wild mice exhibited substantially elevated levels of exploratory activities and an overall "preference" for the open arms of the plus-maze. On re-exposure to the plus-maze, male wild mice showed further increases in open arm exploration, while Swiss mice showed a marked shift to the enclosed parts of the plus-maze. Tested over a single session, female wild mice also exhibited a profile of high open arm exploration, but showed levels of exploratory behaviors and locomotor activity similar to female Swiss counterparts. While exploratory patterns in wild mice show similarities to profiles seen in certain laboratory strains (e.g., BALB/c), wild mice displayed a number of additional behaviors that are unprecedented in plus-maze studies with laboratory mice. These included actual and attempted jumps from the maze, spontaneous freezing, and exploration of the upper ledges of the closed arms. Thus, while in conventional terms the behavior of wild mice was consistent with one of low anxiety-like behavior, the presence of these unique elements instead indicates a profile more accurately characterized by high reactivity and escape motivation. We discuss how the use of an ethological approach to measuring plus-maze behavior can support accurate interpretation of other exceptional profiles in this test, such as those possibly arising from phenotyping of transgenic and gene knockout mice.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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