Defensive Responses to Predator Threat in the Rat and Mouse

D. Caroline Blanchard1, Robert J. Blanchard1, Guy Griebel2

1 University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, 2 Sanofi‐Synthelabo, Paris
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Neuroscience
Unit Number:  Unit 8.19
DOI:  10.1002/0471142301.ns0819s30
Online Posting Date:  February, 2005
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Abstract

Defensive responses include an array of specific behaviors, including flight, freezing, risk assessment, and defensive threat/attack, that are elicited by unconditioned threat stimuli such as predators or predator odors. Some individual defensive behaviors are selectively responsive to drugs effective against generalized anxiety disorder or panic, providing a rationale for their use in investigation of compounds that may be useful in treating these disorders. In addition, defensive behaviors toward predators and some predator odors show rapid conditioning to contextual stimuli, whereas other predator odors do not, although they too elicit defensiveness. This pattern suggests that the ability of a predator odor to predict danger may be a determinant of the degree to which that odor supports aversive conditioning. Predators and predator odors are also increasingly used in studies of brain systems potentially related to emotionality. These factors indicate the need for selective, reliable, and convenient tests of defensiveness to predators and predator odors using rat and mouse subjects.

Keywords: defensive behavior; cat exposure; cat odor; defensive conditioning; anxiety

     
 
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Table of Contents

  • Basic Protocol 1: Use of Mouse Defense Test Battery (MDTB) to Test Defensive Behaviors of Mice To an Anesthetized Rat
  • Basic Protocol 2: Use of Rat Exposure Test (RET) to Evaluate Mouse Defensive Responses to a Live Rat
  • Basic Protocol 3: Testing Rat Defensive Responses to Cat Odor and Conditioning to Associated Contextual Stimuli
  • Alternate Protocol 1: Use of Cat Odor to Elicit a Range of Defensive Behaviors when a Hiding Area is Available
  • Commentary
  • Literature Cited
  • Figures
     
 
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Materials

Basic Protocol 1: Use of Mouse Defense Test Battery (MDTB) to Test Defensive Behaviors of Mice To an Anesthetized Rat

  Materials
  • Adult male mice (e.g., Swiss strain)
  • Adult male rats
  • Drugs to be tested
  • CO 2
  • Laboratory detergent (mild)
  • Saline or other vehicle for control injections
  • Standard single mouse cages
  • Video camera (optional: television screen connected to video camera, located in an adjacent room)
  • Runway apparatus (Fig. ; custom‐made)
  • Quiet test room away from disturbance (run tests under red light)

Basic Protocol 2: Use of Rat Exposure Test (RET) to Evaluate Mouse Defensive Responses to a Live Rat

  Materials
  • Adult male mice
  • Adult rats (threat stimuli)
  • Control stimulus (plush toy animal about the same size as the rats to be used)
  • Drugs to be tested
  • Saline or other vehicle for control injections
  • 5% alcohol
  • Mild laboratory detergent
  • D‐amphetamine
  • Standard single mouse cages
  • Two identical RET apparatuses (custom‐made; Fig. )
  • Two quiet, darkened rooms, of similar dimensions and construction, free from disturbances
  • Video camera

Basic Protocol 3: Testing Rat Defensive Responses to Cat Odor and Conditioning to Associated Contextual Stimuli

  Materials
  • Adult male rats
  • Adult cat (odor donor)
  • Drugs to be tested
  • Saline or other vehicle for control injections
  • 9 × 9 × 2–cm Plexiglas blocks
  • Terry cloth
  • Single rat cages
  • Two quiet, darkened rooms of similar dimensions and construction, away from disturbances
  • Video camera
  • Two identical cat odor apparatuses (Fig. )

Alternate Protocol 1: Use of Cat Odor to Elicit a Range of Defensive Behaviors when a Hiding Area is Available

  Materials
  • Adult male rats
  • Access to an adult cat (odor donor, not brought into the lab)
  • Standard wool acrylic or synthetic nylon cat collars
  • Standard single rat cages
  • Two quiet, darkened rooms, of similar dimensions and construction, away from disturbances
  • Video camera
  • Two identical cat odor with hide box apparatuses (custom‐made; Fig. )
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Figures

Videos

Literature Cited

   Blanchard, R.J. and Blanchard, D.C. 1989. Anti‐predator defensive behaviors in a visible burrow system. J. Comp. Psychol. 103:70‐82.
   Blanchard, D.C., Blanchard, R.J., Tom, P., and Rodgers, R.J. 1990. Diazepam alters risk assessment in an anxiety/defense test battery. Psychopharmacology 101:511‐518.
   Blanchard, D.C., Griebel, G., and Blanchard, R.J. 2003a. The mouse defense test battery: Pharmacological and behavioral assays for anxiety and panic. Eur. J. Pharmacol. 463:97‐116.
   Blanchard, D.C., Li, C.‐I., Hubbard, D., Markham, C., Yang, M., Takahashi, L.K., and Blanchard, R.J. 2003b. Dorsal premammillary nucleus differentially modulates defensive behaviors induced by different threat stimuli. Neurosci. Lett. 345:145‐148.
   Blanchard, D.C., Markham, C., Yang, M., Hubbard, D., Madarang, E., and Blanchard, R.J. 2003c. Failure to produce conditioning with low‐dose trimethylthiazoline or cat feces as unconditioned stimuli. Behav. Neurosci. 1172:360‐368.
   Blanchard, R.J., Yang, M., Li, C.‐I., Garvacio, A., and Blanchard, D.C. 2001. Cue and context conditioning of defensive behaviors to cat odor stimuli. Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 26:587‐595.
   Dielenberg, R.A. and McGregor, I.S. 2001. Defensive behavior in rats towards predatory odors: A review. Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 25:597‐609.
   Dielenberg, R.A. and McGregor, I.S. 1999. Habituation of the hiding response to cat odor in rats Rattus norvegicus. J. Comp. Psychol. 113:376‐387.
   Dielenberg, R.A., Arnold, J.C., and McGregor, I.S. 1999. Low‐dose midazolam attenuates predatory odor avoidance in rats. Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. 62:197‐201.
   Dielenberg, R.A., Carrive, P., and McGregor, I.S. 2001. The cardiovascular and behavioral response to cat odor in rats: Unconditioned and conditioned effects. Brain Res. 897:228‐237.
   Griebel, G., Blanchard, D.C., and Blanchard, R.J. 1996. Evidence that the behaviors in the mouse defense test battery relate to different emotional states: A factor analytic study. Physiol. Behav. 60:1255‐1260.
   Griebel, G., Blanchard, D.C., Jung, A., and Blanchard, R.J. 1995. A model of ‘antipredator’ defense in Swiss‐Webster mice: Effects of benzodiazepine receptor ligands with different intrinsic activities. Behav. Pharmacol. 6:732‐745.
   Griebel, G., Sanger, D.J., and Perrault, G. 1997. Genetic differences in the mouse defense test battery. Aggress. Behav. 23:19‐31.
   McGregor, I.S. and Dielenberg, R.A. 1999. Differential anxiolytic efficacy of a benzodiazepine on first versus second exposure to a predatory odor in rats. Psychopharmacology Berl. 147:174‐181.
   McGregor, I.S., Schrama, L., Ambermoon, P., and Dielenberg, R.A. 2002. Not all ‘predator odours’ are equal: Cat odour but not 2,4,5 trimethylthiazoline TMT; fox odour elicits specific defensive behaviors in rats. Behav. Brain Res. 129:1‐16.
   Yang, M., Augustsson, H., Markham, C.M., Hubbard, D.T., Webster, D., Wall, P.M., Blanchard, R.J., and Blanchard, D.C. 2004. The rat exposure test: A model of mouse defensive behaviors. Physiol. Behav. 8:465‐473.
Key References
   Blanchard et al., 2003a. See above.
  Provides a general review of the development of the MDTB and reviews the effects of 70+ drugs in this procedure.
   Dielenberg and McGregor, 2001. See above
  Provides a general review of cat odor tests and findings, with particular attention to the development and use of the cat odor test with hide box.
   Yang et al., 2004. See above
  Describes procedures and measures of the RET and compares effects of two inbred and two outbred mouse strains in this test.
   Blanchard et al., 2003b. See above
  Describes procedures and measures for the cat odor test and compares conditioning for cat fur/skin odor, cat feces, and TMT in this test.
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