Selective breeding for divergence in novelty-seeking traits: heritability and enrichment in spontaneous anxiety-related behaviors.

JD Stead; S Clinton; C Neal; J Schneider; A Jama; S Miller; DM Vazquez; SJ Watson; H Akil
Behav Genet. 2006; 36(5):697-712.


Outbred Sprague-Dawley rats can be classified as high responders (HR) or low responders (LR) based on their levels of exploratory locomotion in a novel environment. While this novelty-seeking dimension was originally related to differential vulnerability to substance abuse, behavioral, neuroendocrine and gene expression studies suggest a fundamental difference in emotional reactivity between these animals. Here, we report the first study to selectively breed rats based on this novelty-seeking dimension. Response to novelty was clearly heritable, with a > 2-fold difference in behavior seen after eight generations of selection. Three tests of anxiety-like behavior consistently showed significantly greater anxiety in LR-bred rats compared to HR-bred animals, and this difference was diminished in the open field test by administration of the anxiolytic benzodiazepine drug, chlordiazepoxide. Cross-fostering revealed that responses to novelty were largely unaffected by maternal interactions, though there was an effect on anxiety-like behavior. These selected lines will enable future research on the interplay of genetic, environmental and developmental variables in controlling drug seeking behavior, stress and emotional reactivity.