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ILAR J. 2006;47(2):124-31.

Behavioral phenotyping of transgenic and knockout mice: practical concerns and potential pitfalls.

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Laboratory of Behavioral Neuroscience, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-3730, USA.


New technologies in molecular genetics have dramatically increased the number of targeted gene mutations available to the biomedical research community. Many mutant mouse lines have been generated to provide animal models for human genetic disorders, offering insights into anatomical, neurochemical, and behavioral effects of aberrant gene expression. A variety of assays have been developed to identify and characterize phenotypic changes. In the behavioral domain, our phenotyping strategy involves a comprehensive standardized methodological approach that assesses general health, reflexes, sensory abilities, and motor functions. This assessment is followed by a series of complementary tasks in the specific behavioral domain(s) hypothesized to reveal the function(s) of the gene. Our multitiered approach minimizes intersubject variability by standardizing the experimental history for all animals, improves interlaboratory reliability by providing a clearly defined experimental protocol, and minimizes artifactual interpretations of behavioral data by careful preliminary assessments of basic behaviors, followed by multiple tests within the behavioral domain of interest. Despite meticulous attention to experimental protocol, attention to environmental factors is essential. Differences in noise, light, home cage environment, handling, and diet can dramatically alter behavior. Baseline differences in the behaviors of inbred strains used to generate targeted mutant mouse lines can directly influence the behavioral phenotype of the mutant line. Strategies aimed at minimizing environmental variability and contributions of background genes will enhance the robustness of mouse behavioral phenotyping assays.

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