Differences in sensitivity to the convulsant pilocarpine in substrains and sublines of C57BL/6 mice

Genes Brain Behav. 2009 Jul;8(5):481-92. doi: 10.1111/j.1601-183X.2009.00490.x. Epub 2009 May 28.


In rodents, the cholinomimetic convulsant pilocarpine is widely used to induce status epilepticus (SE), followed by hippocampal damage and spontaneous recurrent seizures, resembling temporal lobe epilepsy. This model has initially been described in rats, but is increasingly used in mice, including the C57BL/6 (B6) inbred strain. In the present study, we compared the effects of pilocarpine in three B6 substrains (B6JOla, B6NHsd and B6NCrl) that were previously reported to differ in several behavioral and genetic aspects. In B6JOla and B6NHsd, only a small percentage of mice developed SE independently of whether pilocarpine was administered at high bolus doses or with a ramping up dosing protocol, but mortality was high. The reverse was true in B6NCrl, in which a high percentage of mice developed SE, but mortality was much lower compared to the other substrains. However, in subsequent experiments with B6NCrl mice, striking differences in SE induction and mortality were found in sublines of this substrain coming from different barrier rooms of the same vendor. In B6NCrl from Barrier #8, administration of pilocarpine resulted in a high percentage of mice developing SE, but mortality was low, whereas the opposite was found in B6NCrl mice from four other barriers of the same vendor. The analysis of F1 mice from a cross of female Barrier 8 pilocarpine-susceptible mice with resistant male mice from another barrier (#9) revealed that F1 male mice were significantly more sensitive to pilocarpine than the resistant parental male mice whereas female F1 mice were not significantly different from resistant Barrier 9 females. These observations strongly indicate X-chromosome linked genetic variation as the cause of the observed phenotypic alterations. To our knowledge, this is the first report which demonstrates that not only the specific B6 substrain but also sublines derived from the same substrain may markedly differ in their response to convulsants such as pilocarpine. As the described differences have a genetic basis, they offer a unique opportunity to identify the genes and pathways involved and contribute to a better understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms of seizure susceptibility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Convulsants / toxicity*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Drug Resistance / genetics
  • Epilepsy / chemically induced*
  • Epilepsy / genetics*
  • Epilepsy / mortality
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics*
  • Genetic Variation / genetics
  • Genotype
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Mortality
  • Phenotype
  • Pilocarpine / toxicity*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Species Specificity
  • X Chromosome / genetics


  • Convulsants
  • Pilocarpine