A schizophrenia-like behavioral trait in the SHR model: Applying confirmatory factor analysis as a new statistical tool

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Questionnaires that assess symptoms of schizophrenia patients undergo strict statistical validation, often using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). CFA allows testing the existence of a trait that both collectively explains the symptoms and gathers the information in a single general index. In rodents, some behaviors are used to model psychiatric symptoms, but no single test or paradigm adequately captures the disorder's phenotype in toto. This work investigated the existence of a behavioral trait in the SHR strain underlying five behavioral tasks used in schizophrenia animal studies and altered in this strain: locomotor activity, rearing behavior, social interaction, prepulse inhibition of startle and contextual fear conditioning. The analysis was conducted on a sample of Wistar (n=290) and Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats (SHRs, n=290). CFA showed the existence of a continuous trait in both strains, and higher values among SHRs. This work is the first to demonstrate the existence of a schizophrenia-like trait in an animal model. We suggest that using CFA to evaluate behavioral parameters in animals might facilitate the pre-clinical investigation of psychiatric disorders, diminishing the gap between animal and human studies.HIGHLIGHTSConfirmatory factor analysis (CFA) tests a latent trait underlying observed variables.CFA revealed higher schizophrenia-like trait in an animal model: the SHR strain.Applying CFA in animal models approximates clinical and pre-clinical studies.CFA is used in human to validate scales/questionnaires throughout their itemsThe five animal tasks functioned as items and the underlying model fit excellently

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