The laboratory rat is emerging as an attractive preclinical animal model of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), allowing investigators to explore genetic, environmental and pharmacological manipulations in a species exhibiting complex, reciprocal social behavior. The present study was carried out to compare two commonly used strains of laboratory rats, Sprague-Dawley (SD) and Long-Evans (LE), between the ages of postnatal day (PND) 26-56 using high-throughput behavioral phenotyping tools commonly used in mouse models of ASD that we have adapted for use in rats.We detected few differences between young SD and LE strains on standard assays of exploration, sensorimotor gating, anxiety, repetitive behaviors, and learning. Both SD and LE strains also demonstrated sociability in the 3-chamber social approach test as indexed by spending more time in the social chamber with a constrained age/strain/sex matched novel partner than in an identical chamber without a partner. Pronounced differences between the two strains were, however, detected when the rats were allowed to freely interact with a novel partner in the social dyad paradigm. The SD rats in this particular testing paradigm engaged in play more frequently and for longer durations than the LE rats at both juvenile and young adult developmental time points. Results from this study that are particularly relevant for developing preclinical ASD models in rats are threefold: (i) commonly utilized strains exhibit unique patterns of social interactions, including strain-specific play behaviors, (ii) the testing environment may profoundly influence the expression of strain-specific social behavior and (iii) simple, automated measures of sociability may not capture the complexities of rat social interactions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)