Sociability and preference for social novelty in five inbred strains: an approach to assess autistic-like behavior in mice

Genes Brain Behav. 2004 Oct;3(5):287-302. doi: 10.1111/j.1601-1848.2004.00076.x.


Deficits in social interaction are important early markers for autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders with strong genetic components. Standardized behavioral assays that measure the preference of mice for initiating social interactions with novel conspecifics would be of great value for mutant mouse models of autism. We developed a new procedure to assess sociability and the preference for social novelty in mice. To quantitate sociability, each mouse was scored on measures of exploration in a central habituated area, a side chamber containing an unfamiliar conspecific (stranger 1) in a wire cage, or an empty side chamber. In a secondary test, preference for social novelty was quantitated by presenting the test mouse with a choice between the first, now-familiar, conspecific (stranger 1) in one side chamber, and a second unfamiliar mouse (stranger 2) in the other side chamber. Parameters scored included time spent in each chamber and number of entries into the chambers. Five inbred strains of mice were tested, C57BL/6J, DBA/2J, FVB/NJ, A/J and B6129PF2/J hybrids. Four strains showed significant levels of sociability (spend- ing more time in the chamber containing stranger 1 than in the empty chamber) and a preference for social novelty (spending more time in the chamber containing stranger 2 than in the chamber containing the now-familiar stranger 1). These social preferences were observed in both male and female mice, and in juveniles and adults. The exception was A/J, a strain that demonstrated a preference for the central chamber. Results are discussed in terms of potential applications of the new methods, and the proper controls for the interpretation of social behavior data, including assays for health, relevant sensory abilities and motor functions. This new standardized procedure to quantitate sociability and preference for social novelty in mice provides a method to assess tendencies for social avoidance in mouse models of autism.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred DBA
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Rotarod Performance Test
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Behavior*
  • Species Specificity