The mouse light/dark box test

Eur J Pharmacol. 2003 Feb 28;463(1-3):55-65. doi: 10.1016/s0014-2999(03)01274-3.


The light/dark test is based on the innate aversion of rodents to brightly illuminated areas and on the spontaneous exploratory behaviour of rodents in response to mild stressors, that is, novel environment and light. The test apparatus consists of a small dark safe compartment (one third) and a large illuminated aversive compartment (two thirds). The test was developed with male mice. The strain, weight and age may be crucial factors. The extent to which an anxiolytic compound can facilitate exploratory activity depends on the baseline level in the control group. Differences between the type and severity of external stressors might account for the variable results reported by different laboratories. The light/dark test may be useful to predict anxiolytic-like or anxiogenic-like activity in mice. Transitions have been reported to be an index of activity-exploration because of habituation over time, and the time spent in each compartment to be a reflection of aversion. Classic anxiolytics (benzodiazepines) as well as the newer anxiolytic-like compounds (e.g. serotonergic drugs or drugs acting on neuropeptide receptors) can be detected using this paradigm. It has the advantages of being quick and easy to use, without requiring the prior training of animals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / pharmacology
  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Antipsychotic Agents / pharmacology
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Avoidance Learning*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology
  • Darkness*
  • Exploratory Behavior*
  • Ligands
  • Light*
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal
  • Receptors, GABA-A / drug effects
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide / drug effects
  • Receptors, Serotonin / drug effects
  • Receptors, Serotonin / metabolism
  • Serotonin Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists / pharmacology


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide
  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Serotonin Antagonists
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists