Behavioural despair in rats: a new model sensitive to antidepressant treatments

Eur J Pharmacol. 1978 Feb 15;47(4):379-91. doi: 10.1016/0014-2999(78)90118-8.


Rats when forced to swim in a cylinder from which they cannot escape will, after an initial period of vigorous activity, adopt a characteristic immobile posture which can be readily identified. Immobility was reduced by various clinically effective antidepressant drugs at doses which otherwise decreased spontaneous motor activity in an open field. Antidepressants could thus be distinguished from psychostimulants which decreased immobility at doses which increased general activity. Anxiolytic compounds did not affect immobility whereas major tranquilisers enhanced it. Immobility was also reduced by electroconvulsive shock, REM sleep deprivation and "enrichment" of the environment. It was concluded that immobility reflects a state of lowered mood in the rat which is selectively sensitive to antidepressant treatments. Positive findings with atypical antidepressant drugs such as iprindole and mianserin suggest that the method may be capable of discovering new antidepressants hitherto undetectable with classical pharmacological tests.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Depression / drug therapy*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Electroshock
  • Humans
  • Imipramine / administration & dosage
  • Imipramine / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Sleep, REM / physiology
  • Time Factors


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Imipramine