Locomotor activity is a key component in many behavioral tests, suggesting that genetic differences in activity levels may be a critical consideration when comparing mouse strains. In order to assess the relationship between activity and performance, we recorded home cage activity, and locomotion and defecation, a non-activity-linked behavior, in tests of anxiety in inbred (C57BL/6J (B6), n = 25; BALB/cJ (C), n = 24; DBA/2J (D2), n = 28) and hybrid (CB6F1/6J (CB6: B6 x C) n = 19) mice. Under our test conditions, the strains showed significant differences in home cage activity levels: C > B6 > D2. The CB6 mice were similar to the B6 mice in horizontal activity and were intermediate between the parental strains in vertical movement. Based on measures of locomotion and defecation in the open field, emergence and novel object tests, and the elevated zero maze, the C mice appeared to be the most anxious and the B6 were the least anxious. The D2 mice were intermediate on some measures but more similar to B6 mice on others, making ranking them more difficult. In addition, the CB6 mice displayed characteristics of both parental strains. They had greater similarity to B6 mice in measures of horizontal movement in the home cage and locomotion in the open field and emergence tests, but exhibited defecation responses similar to those of C mice in the novel object test and elevated zero maze. The results suggest that strain differences in spontaneous locomotion should be considered when interpreting strain differences in behavioral tests, and that home cage activity may be a useful interpretive aid.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science B.V.