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Stress. 2003 Jun;6(2):87-100.

Divergent stress responses and coping styles in psychogenetically selected Roman high-(RHA) and low-(RLA) avoidance rats: behavioural, neuroendocrine and developmental aspects.

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Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit, HUG, Geneva, Switzerland.


The Swiss sublines of Roman high-(RHA/Verh) and low-(RLA/Verh) avoidance rats have been genetically selected for good vs. poor performance in two-way active avoidance since 1972. RLA/Verh rats show increased stress responses (e.g. freezing behaviour, ACTH, corticosterone and prolactin secretion) and adopt a more passive (or reactive) coping style when confronted with a novel environment. In the open field, elevated plus-maze, black/white box test, and in a new light/dark open field test, RLA/Verh rats appear to be more anxious than their RHA/Verh counterparts. Anxiety may result from their particular psychophysiological profile, i.e. increased emotionality combined with a passive coping style. In contrast, RHA/Verh rats are less responsive to stress, they show little anxiety in novel situations and tend to be impulsive and novelty (sensation) seekers. Some behavioural differences are already noticeable shortly after birth, but the full pattern appears to stabilize only after puberty. Gene-environment interactions are critical in establishing this pattern. The data reviewed indicate that the differences between RHA/Verh and RLA/Verh rats probably result from a complex interaction among divergent anxiety/emotionality characteristics, differences in locomotor activity and novelty/reward seeking, as well as active vs. passive coping styles. It is proposed further that these divergent personality types are to be found not only in other selective breeding programs but in the form of individual differences in most populations of rats used for this type of research.

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