Cognitive, emotional and social phenotyping of mice in an observer-independent setting

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Abstract

Based on the intellicage paradigm, we have developed a novel cognitive, emotional and social phenotyping battery that permits comprehensive standardized behavioral characterization of mice in an experimenter-independent social setting. Evaluation of this battery in a large number of male and female C57BL/6 wildtype mice, tested in >20 independent cohorts, revealed high reproducibility of the behavioral readouts and may serve as future reference tool. We noticed robust sex-specific differences in general activity, cognitive and emotional behavior, but not regarding preference for social pheromones. Specifically, female mice revealed higher activity, decreased sucrose preference, impaired reversal and place-time-reward learning. Furthermore, female mice reacted more sensitively than males to reward-withdrawal showing a negative emotional contrast/Crespi-effect. In a series of validation experiments, we tested mice with different pathologies, including neuroligin-3 deficient mice (male Nlgn3y/− and female Nlgn3+/−) for autistic behavior, oligodendrocyte-specific erythropoietin receptor knockout (oEpoR−/−) mice for cognitive impairment, as well as mouse models of renal failure (unilateral ureteral obstruction and 5/6 nephrectomy) and of type 2 diabetes (ApoE−/−) – for delineating potentially confounding effects of motivational factors (thirst, glucose-craving) on learning and memory assessments. As prominent features, we saw in Nlgn3 mutants reduced preference for social pheromones, whereas oEpoR−/− mice showed learning deficits in place or reversal learning tasks. Renal failure led to increased water intake, and diabetic metabolism to enhanced glucose preference, limiting interpretation of hereon based learning and memory performance in these mice. The phenotyping battery presented here may be well-suited as high-throughput multifaceted diagnostic instrument for translational neuropsychiatry and behavioral genetics.

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