Environmental enrichment reduces innate anxiety with no effect on depression-like behaviour in mice lacking the serotonin transporter
Along with being the main target of many antidepressant medications, the serotonin transporter (5-HTT) is known to be involved in the pathophysiology of depression and anxiety disorders. In line with this, mice with varying 5-HTT genotypes are invaluable tools to study depression- and anxiety-like behaviours as well as the mechanisms mediating potential therapeutics. There is clear evidence that both genetic and environmental factors play a role in the aetiology of psychiatric disorders. In that regard, housing paradigms which seek to enhance cognitive stimulation and physical activity have been shown to exert beneficial effects in animal models of neuropsychiatric disorders. In the present study, we examined the effects of environmental enrichment on affective-like behaviours and sensorimotor gating function of 5-HTT knock-out (KO) mice. Using the elevated-plus maze and the light-dark box, we found that environmental enrichment ameliorated the abnormal innate anxiety of 5-HTT KO mice on both tests. In contrast, environmental enrichment did not rescue the depression-like behaviour displayed by 5-HTT KO mice in the forced-swim test. Finally, measuring pre-pulse inhibition, we found no effect of genotype or treatment on sensorimotor gating. In conclusion, our data suggest that environmental enrichment specifically reduces innate anxiety of 5-HTT KO mice with no amelioration of the depression-like behaviour. This has implications for the current use of clinical interventions for patients with symptoms of both anxiety and depression.