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What can we learn on rodent fearfulness/anxiety from the genetically heterogeneous NIH-HS rat stock?

Author(s): Sira Díaz-Morán | Esther Martínez-Membrives | Regina López-Aumatell | Toni Cañete | Gloria Blázquez | Marta Palencia | Carme Mont-Cardona | Celio Estanislau | Adolf Tobeña | Alberto Fernández-Teruel

Journal: Open Journal of Psychiatry
ISSN 2161-7325

Volume: 03;
Issue: 02;
Start page: 238;
Date: 2013;
Original page

Keywords: Anxiety | Fearfulness | Stress Hormones | HPA Axis Responses | Forced Swimming Test | Genetically Heterogeneous NIH-HS Stock | RHA-I/RLA-I Rats

The “National Institutes of Health” genetically heterogeneous (NIH-HS) rat stock was created in the 1980s through an eight-way cross of as much as possible separate inbred rat strains (i.e. the MR/N, WN/N, WKY/N, M520/N, F344/N, ACI/N, BN/SsN and BUF/N strains) which were readily available at that time. Hansen and Spuhler [1] developed a more naturalistic, genetically heterogeneous rat stock with the aim of optimizing the distribution of genotypic frequencies and recombination and under the hypothesis that the NIH-HS stock could yield a broad-range distribution of responses (broader than commonly used laboratory rat strains) to experimental conditions, and thus serve as a base population for selection studies. Along the last decade, in a series of studies we have phenotypically characterized the NIH-HS rat stock (a colony exists at our laboratory since 2004) for their anxiety/fearfulness profiles (using a battery of both unconditioned and conditioned tests/tasks), as well as regarding their stress-induced hormonal responses, coping style under inescapable stress and spatial learning ability. We have also compared the phenotypic profiles of NIH-HS rats with those of the low anxious RHA-I and the high anxious RLA-I rat strains. The NIH-HS rat stock is, as a population, a rather anxious type of rat, with predominantly reactive/passive coping style in unlearned and learned anxiety/fear tests, and elevated stress hormone responses (as well as enhanced “depressive” symptoms in the forced swimming test). Genetic studies currently under way have thus far revealed that the genetically heterogeneous NIH-HS rat stock constitutes a unique tool for fine mapping of QTL (for multiple behavioural and biological complex traits) to megabase resolution levels, thus enabling candidate gene identification. We give some examples of this in the present paper, while also highlighting that microarray gene expression studies reveal that HPA-axis- and prolactin-related genes (among others) in the amygdala appear to be related with (or associated to) the coping style and anxiety/fearfulness responses of NIH-HS rats.

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