Here we sought to define behavioural traits linked to anxiety, reward, and exploration in different strains of rats commonly used in obesity research. We hypothesized that genetic variance may contribute not only to their metabolic phenotype (that is well documented) but also to the expression of these behavioural traits. Rat strains that differ in their susceptibility to develop an obese phenotype (Sprague-Dawley, Obese Prone, Obese Resistant, and Zucker rats) were exposed to a number of behavioural tests starting at the age of 8 weeks. We found a similar phenotype in the obesity susceptible models, Obese Prone and Zucker rats, with a lower locomotor activity, exploratory activity, and higher level of anxiety-like behaviour in comparison to the leaner Obese Resistant strain. We did not find evidence that rat strains with a genetic predisposition to obesity differed in their ability to experience reward from chocolate (in a condition place preference task). However, Zucker rats show higher motivated behaviour for sucrose compared to Obese Resistant rats when the effort required to obtain palatable food is relatively low.
Together our data demonstrate that rat strains that differ in their genetic predisposition to develop obesity also differ in their performance in behavioural tests linked to anxiety, exploration, and reward and that these differences are independent of body weight. We conclude that genetic variations which determine body weight and the aforementioned behaviours co-exist but that future studies are required to identify whether (and which) common genes are involved.