A review of the validity and variability of the elevated plus-maze as an animal model of anxiety

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1996 May;54(1):21-30. doi: 10.1016/0091-3057(95)02126-4.


Despite or possibly by virtue of the fact that it is one of the most commonly used animal models of anxiety the Elevated Plus-Maze (EPM) results in a wide range of, often contradictory, results following pharmacological experiments. The responses from a questionnaire distributed to 65 groups that have published studies using the EPM in the past 3 years has, along with reference to published reports, enabled some conclusions regarding the influencing factors to be drawn. Some evidence for differential sensitivities between strains exists, with albino rats being more sensitive to the anxiolytic effects of 5-HT3 receptor antagonists and 5-HT1A receptor agonists than pigmented animals. Most important, however, is the manipulation of the animals prior to testing and the aversiveness of the test conditions themselves. Stressing animals before testing (e.g., by moving from holding to test room) or using more aversive test conditions (e.g., elevated light levels) increases sensitivity to potential anxiolytics. Animals that are habituated to gentle handling or tested in less aversive conditions (e.g., EPM with ledges) show reduced likelihood of anxiolytic responses with administration of 5-HT3 antagonists, 5-HT1A agonists, and benzodiazepines.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anxiety / drug therapy
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Mice
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Rats
  • Reproducibility of Results


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents