Background: Animal models of human behavioral endophenotypes, such as the Tail Suspension Test (TST) and the Open Field assay (OF), have proven to be essential tools in revealing the genetics and mechanisms of psychiatric diseases. As in the human disorders they model, the measurements generated in these behavioral assays are significantly impacted by the genetic background of the animals tested. In order to better understand the strain-dependent phenotypic variability endemic to this type of work, and better inform future studies that rely on the data generated by these models, we phenotyped 33 inbred mouse strains for immobility in the TST, a mouse model of behavioral despair, and for activity in the OF, a model of general anxiety and locomotor activity.
Results: We identified significant strain-dependent differences in TST immobility, and in thigmotaxis and distance traveled in the OF. These results were replicable over multiple testing sessions and exhibited high heritability. We exploited the heritability of these behavioral traits by using in silico haplotype-based association mapping to identify candidate genes for regulating TST behavior. Two significant loci (-logp >7.0, gFWER adjusted p value <0.05) of approximately 300 kb each on MMU9 and MMU10 were identified. The MMU10 locus is syntenic to a major human depressive disorder QTL on human chromosome 12 and contains several genes that are expressed in brain regions associated with behavioral despair.
Conclusions: We report the results of phenotyping a large panel of inbred mouse strains for depression and anxiety-associated behaviors. These results show significant, heritable strain-specific differences in behavior, and should prove to be a valuable resource for the behavioral and genetics communities. Additionally, we used haplotype mapping to identify several loci that may contain genes that regulate behavioral despair.