Stress-related illnesses such as major depressive and anxiety disorders are characterized by maladaptive responses to stressful life events. Chronic stress-based animal models have provided critical insight into the understanding of these responses. Currently available assays measuring chronic stress-induced behavioral states in mice are limited in their design (short, not repeatable, sensitive to experimenter-bias) and often inconsistent. Using the Noldus PhenoTyper apparatus, we identified a new readout that repeatedly assesses behavioral changes induced by chronic stress in two mouse models i.e. chronic restraint stress (CRS) and chronic unpredictable mild stress (UCMS). The PhenoTyper test consists of overnight monitoring of animals' behavior in home-cage setting before, during and after a 1hr light challenge applied over a designated food zone. We tested the reproducibility and reliability of the PhenoTyper test in assessing the effects of chronic stress exposure, and compared outcomes with commonly-used tests. While chronic stress induced heterogeneous profiles in classical tests, CRS- and UCMS-exposed mice showed a very consistent response in the PhenoTyper test. Indeed, CRS and UCMS mice continue avoiding the lit zone in favor of the shelter zone. This "residual avoidance" after the light challenge, lasted for hours beyond termination of the challenge, was not observed after acute stress and was consistently found throughout stress exposure in both models. Chronic stress-induced residual avoidance was alleviated by chronic imipramine treatment but not acute diazepam administration. This behavioral index should be instrumental for studies aiming to better understand the trajectory of chronic stress-induced deficits and potentially screen novel anxiolytics and antidepressants.
Keywords: Animal model; Antidepressant; Anxiolytic; Chronic stress; Depressive-like behavior; Repeatable.
Copyright © 2019 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.