Lifetime development of behavioural phenotype in the house mouse (Mus musculus)

Front Zool. 2015 Aug 24;12 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S17. doi: 10.1186/1742-9994-12-S1-S17. eCollection 2015.


With each trajectory taken during the ontogeny of an individual, the number of optional behavioural phenotypes that can be expressed across its life span is reduced. The initial range of phenotypic plasticity is largely determined by the genetic material/composition of the gametes whereas interacting with the given environment shapes individuals to adapt to/cope with specific demands. In mammalian species, the phenotype is shaped as the foetus grows, depending on the environment in the uterus, which in turn depends on the outer environment the mother experiences during pregnancy. After birth, a complex interaction between innate constitution and environmental conditions shapes individual lifetime trajectories, bringing about a wide range of diversity among individual subjects. In laboratory mice inbreeding has been systematically induced in order to reduce the genetic variability between experimental subjects. In addition, within most laboratories conducting behavioural phenotyping with mice, breeding and housing conditions are highly standardised. Despite such standardisation efforts a considerable amount of variability persists in the behaviour of mice. There is good evidence that phenotypic variation is not merely random but might involve individual specific behavioural patterns consistent over time. In order to understand the mechanisms and the possible adaptive value of the maintenance of individuality we review the emergence of behavioural phenotypes over the course of the life of (laboratory) mice. We present a literature review summarizing developmental stages of behavioural development of mice along with three illustrative case studies. We conclude that the accumulation of environmental differences and experiences lead to a "mouse individuality" that becomes increasingly stable over the lifetime.

Keywords: adolescence; adulthood; behavioural phenotype; behavioural stability; life stages; ontogeny; phenotypic plasticity; post-reproductive age; postnatal; prenatal.

Publication types

  • Review