Mice lacking the cell adhesion molecule Thy-1 fail to use socially transmitted cues to direct their choice of food

Curr Biol. 2000 Jan 27;10(2):68-75. doi: 10.1016/s0960-9822(99)00278-x.


Background: Thy-1 is a major cell-surface glycoprotein of mature neurons and certain other cells, including those of the lymphoreticular system. Despite being the simplest member of the immunoglobulin superfamily, the biological role of Thy-1 has proved elusive. Analysis of Thy-1 null mice has shown the presence of excessive GABAergic inhibition of neurotransmission in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampal formation selectively, without any neurological or behavioural effects being apparent.

Results: We show here that Thy-1 null mice are unable to make the appropriate dietary choice in the test for social transmission of food preference, despite showing a normal level of social interaction with the demonstrator mouse, normal neophobia, and normal learning in a T-maze using scented food as cues. The mice also performed normally in tests of anxiety, locomotor activity, exploration of a novel environment, habituation to novelty and spatial learning. This phenotype is maintained on two different strain backgrounds, is rescued by transgenic expression of Thy-1 and by administration of the GABA(A) receptor antagonist pentylenetetrazole.

Conclusions: The test for social transmission of food preference is based on the normal ability of mice in a colony to learn from each other which foods are safe to eat. The lack of this key survival behaviour in Thy-1 null mice could act as an evolutionary pressure point to conserve expression of Thy-1. Furthermore, the specific cognitive defect caused by inactivation of the Thy-1 gene suggests that it would be worthwhile to determine the role of Thy-1 in certain human familial forms of mental retardation that map to chromosome 11q22-23 in the region of the Thy-1 locus rather than the nearby ataxia telangiectasia locus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Cognition Disorders / genetics
  • Food Preferences*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Odorants
  • Phenotype
  • Species Specificity
  • Thy-1 Antigens / genetics*


  • Thy-1 Antigens