Background: The onset of major depressive disorder is likely precipitated by a combination of heredity and life stress. The present study tested the hypothesis that rats selectively bred on a trait related to emotional reactivity would show differential susceptibility or resilience to the development of depression-like signs in response to chronic mild variable intermittent stress (CMS).
Methods: Male Sprague-Dawley rats that were bred based on the trait of either high or low locomotor activity in response to a novel environment were exposed to 4 weeks of CMS or control conditions. Changes in hedonic behavior were assessed using weekly sucrose preference tests and anxiety-like behavior was evaluated using the novelty-suppressed feeding test.
Results: During 4 weeks of CMS, bred low responder (bLR) rats became anhedonic at a faster rate and to a larger degree than bred high responder (bHR) rats, based on weekly sucrose preference tests. Measures of anxiety-like behavior in the novelty-suppressed feeding test were also significantly increased in the CMS-exposed bLR rats, though no differences were observed between CMS-exposed bHR rats and their unstressed controls.
Conclusions: These findings present further evidence that increased emotional reactivity is an important factor in stress susceptibility and the etiology of mood disorders, and that bHR and bLR rats provide a model of resistance or vulnerability to stress-induced depression. Furthermore, exposing bHR and bLR rats to CMS provides an excellent way to study the interaction of genetic and environmental factors in the development of depression-like behavior.
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