Tree shrew models: a chronic social defeat model of depression and a one-trial captive conditioning model of learning and memory

Dongwuxue Yanjiu. 2011 Feb;32(1):24-30. doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1141.2011.01024.


Recent genome studies indicate that tree shrew is in the order or a closest sister of primates, and thus may be one of the best animals to model human diseases. In this paper, we report on a social defeat model of depression in tree shrew (Tupaia belangeri chinensis). Two male tree shrews were housed in a pair-cage consisting of two independent cages separated by a wire mesh partition with a door connecting the two cages. After one week adaptation, the connecting door was opened and a brief fighting occurs between the two male tree shrews and this social conflict session consisted of 1 h direct conflict (fighting) and 23 h indirect influence (e.g. smell, visual cues) per day for 21 days. The defeated tree shrew was considered the subordinate. Compared with naive animals, subordinate tree shrews at the final week of social conflict session showed alterations in body weight, locomotion, avoidance behavior and urinary cortisol levels. Remarkably, these alterations persisted for over two weeks. We also report on a novel captive conditioning model of learning and memory in tree shrew. An automatic trapping cage was placed in a small closed room with a freely-moving tree shrew. For the first four trials, the tree shrew was not trapped when it entered the cage and ate the bait apple, but it was trapped and kept in the cage for 1 h on the fifth trial. Latency was defined as the time between release of the tree shrew and when it entered the captive cage. Latencies during the five trials indicated adaptation. A test trial 24 h later was used to measure whether the one-trial trapping during the fifth trial could form captive memory. Tree shrews showed much longer trapping latencies in the test trial than the adaptation trials. The N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist MK-801 (0.2 mg/kg, i.p.), known to prevent the formation of memory, did not affect latencies in the adaptation trails, but did block captive memory as it led to much shorter trapping latencies compared to saline treatment in the test trial. These results demonstrate a chronic social defeat model of depression and a novel one-trial captive conditioning model for learning and memory in tree shrews, which are important for mechanism studies of depression, learning, memory, and preclinical evaluation for new antidepressants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Conditioning, Psychological
  • Depression / drug therapy
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Tupaiidae* / psychology


  • Antidepressive Agents