Since its introduction almost 20 years ago, the tail suspension test has become one of the most widely used models for assessing antidepressant-like activity in mice. The test is based on the fact that animals subjected to the short-term, inescapable stress of being suspended by their tail, will develop an immobile posture. Various antidepressant medications reverse the immobility and promote the occurrence of escape-related behaviour. This review focuses on the utility this test as part of a research program aimed at understanding the mechanism of action of antidepressants. We discuss the inherent difficulties in modeling depression in rodents. We describe how the tail suspension differs from the closely related forced swim test. Further, we address some key issues associated with using the TST as a model of antidepressant action. We discuss issues regarding whether it satisfies criteria to be a valid model for assessing depression-related behavioural traits. We elaborate on the tests' ease of use, strain differences observed in the test and gender effects in the test. We focus on the utility of the test for genetic analysis. Furthermore, we discuss the concept of whether immobility maybe a behavioural trait relevant to depression. All of the available pharmacological data using the test in genetically modified mice is collated. Special attention is given to selective breeding programs such as the Rouen 'depressed' mice which have been bred for high and low immobility in the tail suspension test. We provide an extensive pooling of the pharmacological studies published to date using the test. Finally, we provide novel pharmacological validation of an automated system (Bioseb) for assessing immobility. Taken together, we conclude that the tail suspension test is a useful test for assessing the behavioural effects of antidepressant compounds and other pharmacological and genetic manipulations relevant to depression.