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Neuroscience. 1997 Oct;80(4):1087-99.

Assessment of learning by the Morris water task and fear conditioning in inbred mouse strains and F1 hybrids: implications of genetic background for single gene mutations and quantitative trait loci analyses.

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Institute for Behavioral Genetics, University of Colorado, Boulder 80309-0447, U.S.A.


Genetic methods including the creation of transgenic or null mutant models and mapping studies using quantitative trait loci strategies can be used to identify candidate genes in mice that regulate learning processes. Interpretations as to the impact of single gene mutations for polygenic behaviours like learning will depend in part on the genetic background of the animals used for these manipulations. To address the issue of genetic variability, 12 inbred strains and seven different F1 hybrids were tested on multiple behavioural tasks, including two complex learning paradigms: the Morris water task and fear conditioning. Strain differences were found for all variables measured. In the hidden platform version of the Morris task, the albino animals performed poorly while overall the F1 hybrids showed the best selectivity for the trained quadrant as measured in a probe trial. In contrast, almost all genotypes performed well on the contextual fear conditioning task and learned to associate the test context with the pairing of a foot shock and auditory stimulus as demonstrated 24 h after training by increased freezing in the test environment compared to an altered context. Significant genetic correlations were obtained for behavioural measures suggesting that the same genes regulate various aspects of performance on behavioural tasks. Scores from these multiple inbred strains and F1 hybrids provide a baseline level of learning ability for fear conditioning and the Morris water task. The results of the present study confirm the importance of genetic background in the performance of various learning tasks. This variability should be considered when developing new transgenic or null mutant animal models.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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