Morphological correlates of emotional and cognitive behaviour: insights from studies on inbred and outbred rodent strains and their crosses

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Abstract

Every study in rodents is also a behavioural genetic study even if only a single strain is used. Outbred strains are genetically heterogeneous populations with a high intrastrain variation, whereas inbred strains are based on the multiplication of a unique individual. The aim of the present review is to summarize findings on brain regions involved in three major components of rodent behaviour, locomotion, anxiety-related behaviour and cognition, by paying particular attention to the genetic context, genetic models used and interstrain comparisons. Recent trends correlating gene expression in inbred strains with behavioural data in databases, morpho-behavioural-haplotype analyses and problems arising from large-scale multivariate analyses are discussed. Morpho-behavioural correlations in multiple strains are presented, including correlations with projection neurons, interneurons and fibre systems in the striatum, midbrain, amygdala, medial septum and hippocampus, by relating them to relevant transmitter systems. In addition, brain areas differentially activated in different strains are described (hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, locus ceruleus). Direct interstrain comparisons indicate that strain differences in behavioural variables and neuronal markers are much more common than usually thought. The choice of the appropriate genetic model can therefore contribute to an interpretation of positive results in a wider context, and help to avoid misleading interpretations of negative results.

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