Experimental Methods in Behavioral Teratology

Arch Toxicol. 1981 Sep;48(2-3):69-88. doi: 10.1007/BF00310480.


The possibility that the exposure of the embryo to certain chemical substances can lead to behavioral disturbances is known from human epidemiological studies, e.g., in chronic poisoning with mercury and ethanol. Therefore, efforts are made to develop toxicological techniques with which new behavioral teratogens can be recognized. The review describes the most important experimental methods which are presently explored, and which are based on a rich body of knowledge accumulated by experimental psychologists. Most of the tests were developed with small animals, mostly with rats. They range from a rather straightforward determination of various reflexes to complex behavioral situations involving mechanical devices, operant conditioning techniques and procedures evaluating social behavior. In applying these methods in routine toxicology, it is important to remember, that many behavioral effects determined in newborn and adult animals are subtle. Moreover, they are influenced by a large variety of environmental factors affecting the health and the behavior of the mothers and of the offspring in the early and later phases of development. Therefore, the experiments must be conducted under highly standardized conditions and must be controlled rigorously. It is concluded that the best experimental strategy for the evaluation of potential behavioral teratogens is not yet established. Therefore, it would be premature to decide on a fixed protocol to be included in routine animal safety experiments for drugs and other chemical substances.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Reflex / drug effects
  • Sense Organs / growth & development
  • Social Behavior / drug effects