Exposure of mice to a predator odor increases acoustic startle but does not disrupt the rewarding properties of VTA intracranial self-stimulation

Brain Res. 2003 Aug 29;982(2):195-210. doi: 10.1016/s0006-8993(03)03008-7.


The present investigation assessed the propensity of an acute psychogenic stressor exposure to induce behavioral change in paradigms assessing fear/anxiety (acoustic startle) and motivation/anhedonia (intracranial self-stimulation) in CD-1 mice. In the acoustic startle paradigm, a 10-min exposure of 2-4 month old mice (young adult mice) to fox odor (2,5-dihydro-2,4,5-trimethylthiazoline; TMT) was associated with decreased acoustic startle relative to mice exposed to the control odor, butyric acid (BA), immediately and relative to both saline and BA exposure 24 h following odor exposure in the home cage. In contrast, a 2-min exposure of young adult mice to TMT was associated with an increase in startle relative to saline and BA during the immediate post-odor test session only. In young adult mice a 2-min and a 10-min exposure to BA resulted in a startle profile of mice reminiscent of saline-treated mice. In comparison to young adult mice, a 2-min exposure of mature adult mice (5-7 months old) to TMT enhanced startle for up to 48 h relative to both saline and BA, while a 10-min exposure of mature adult mice to TMT enhanced startle for 168 h post-odor exposure relative to saline-exposed mice only. However, the greatest increase in startle amplitude (i.e. 48 h) was acquired following the 2-min exposure of mature mice to TMT. Among mature adult mice, a 10-min exposure to BA in the home cage eventuated in enhanced startle relative to saline-exposed animals 168 h following odor exposure. In comparison, exposure of mice to 10 min of TMT depressed responding for VTA brain stimulation at the initial 80 Hz frequency, but was ineffective in elevating reward thresholds relative to mice merely exposed to saline. Mice assessed in the ICSS paradigm were approximately 2-4 months old at the time of surgery and 5-7 months old at the completion of testing. These data suggest that acute odor exposure may induce a fear gradient dependent upon the perceived stressor severity and that the resultant anxiety-like effects are dependent on the duration of odor exposure, age of the animals and the temporal interval between odor presentation and behavioral testing. Moreover, the anxiogenic properties of psychogenic stressors can be separated from their anhedonic effects. The implications of these data for clinical psychopathology are discussed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Animals
  • Butyric Acid / pharmacology
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Fear / drug effects
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Fear / psychology
  • Foxes
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Odorants
  • Reflex, Startle / drug effects
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology*
  • Reward*
  • Self Stimulation / drug effects
  • Self Stimulation / physiology*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / drug effects
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology*


  • Butyric Acid