The rat exposure test: A model of mouse defensive behaviors

Mu Yang, Hanna Augustsson, Chris M. Markham, David T. Hubbard, Dylan Webster, Phillip M. Wall, Robert J. Blanchard, D. Caroline Blanchard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


In order to facilitate behavioral, and potentially pharmacological, analyses of risk assessment behaviors in mice, a rat exposure test (RET) was devised and evaluated. This test provides a home chamber connected via a tunnel to a rat (predator) exposure area. Familiar substrate is provided to permit burying, and mouse subjects are habituated to the apparatus prior to exposure to an amphetamine-activated rat. In comparison to toy-rat-exposed controls, rat-exposed BALB/c mice showed significantly more risk assessment [stretch attend posture (SAP) and stretch approach], freezing, and avoidance (time in the home chamber), and less time in contact with the wire mesh screen between itself and the threat stimulus. When BALB/c, C57BL/6, CD-1, and Swiss-Webster mice were compared in this test, the two inbred strains (BALB/c and C57BL/6) tended to show more extreme values of particular defensive behaviors, compared to the two outbred strains (Swiss-Webster and CD-1). C57BL/6 mice showed more avoidance and higher levels of SAP, freezing, and burying than BALB/c and more than one or both outbred strains as well. BALB/c mice showed little defensive burying, both in comparison to toy-exposed controls (Experiment 1), and in comparison to the three other strains in Experiment 2. These findings are somewhat at variance with characterizations of anxiety in C57BL/6 and BALB/c mice, based on tests utilizing novel areas and noxious stimuli, suggesting strain differences in defensiveness to such stimuli, compared to antipredator defense levels. Nonetheless, with the exception of burying in BALB/c mice, all strains showed all defensive behaviors measured to the rat stimulus. In particular, SAP levels were substantial in all strains tested, suggesting the usefulness of this test in assessment of the role of risk assessment in defense.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-473
Number of pages9
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Anxiety
  • BALB/c
  • C57BL/6
  • CD-1
  • Defensive behavior
  • Mouse
  • Rat exposure test
  • Risk assessment
  • Swiss-Webster

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Physiology (medical)


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