Repeated rat-forced swim test: reducing the number of animals to evaluate gradual effects of antidepressants

J Neurosci Methods. 2011 Feb 15;195(2):200-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2010.12.015. Epub 2010 Dec 16.


The forced swim test (FST) is a pre-clinical test to short and long term treatment with antidepressant drugs (ADT), which requires between-subject designs. Herein a modified protocol of the FST using within-subject design (repeated rat-FST) was evaluated. Male Wistar rats were submitted to 15 min of swimming (Day 1: pretest) followed by three subsequent 5 min-swimming tests one week apart (Day 2: test, Day 7: retest 1, Day 14: retest 2). To determine the temporal and factorial characteristics of the variables scored in the repeated rat-FST, the protocol was carried out in untreated animals (E1). To validate the method, daily injections of Fluoxetine (FLX, 2.5mg/kg, i.p.) or saline were given over a 2-week period (E2). Tests and retests have been videotaped for further register of the latency, frequency and duration of behaviors. Over retesting the latency to immobility decreased whereas duration of immobility tended to increase. Factorial analysis revealed that the test, the retest 1 as well as the retest 2 have variables suitable to detection of antidepressant-like effects of ADT. Compared to saline, FLX chronically administrated reduced duration of immobility whereas increased duration of swimming in retest 2. The data suggest that repeated rat-FST detected the gradual increase in the efficacy of low doses of FLX over time. Therefore, repeated rat-FST seemed suitable to detect short and long term effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or other ADT, thus reducing the number of animals used in the screenings of this type of compounds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Depression / drug therapy*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Fluoxetine / pharmacology
  • Fluoxetine / therapeutic use*
  • Immobility Response, Tonic / drug effects
  • Male
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Swimming / psychology*
  • Time Factors


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Fluoxetine