Mouse Social Recognition and Preference

James T. Winslow1

1 Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center and Emory Medical School, Atlanta, Georgia
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Neuroscience
Unit Number:  Unit 8.16
DOI:  10.1002/0471142301.ns0816s22
Online Posting Date:  May, 2003
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Social recognition in mice is represented by a simple pattern of behavior that can be accurately and reliably quantified by trained observers. The paradigm presented in this unit takes advantage of an ethologically relevant phenomenon marked by a vigorous and species‐typical sequence of investigatory behaviors that occurs when conspecifics meet. Recognition is noted by decreased investigation of a previously encountered animal.

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Table of Contents

  • Strategic Planning
  • Basic Protocol 1: Social Reognition: Two‐Trial Test
  • Alternate Protocol 1: Social Discrimination Design
  • Alternate Protocol 2: Rapid Test of Acquisition and Recognition
  • Basic Protocol 2: Partner Preference Using a Tethered Stimulus Animal
  • Commentary
  • Figures
  • Tables
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Basic Protocol 1: Social Reognition: Two‐Trial Test

  • Test subjects:
    • Adult mice (>42 days old), see Critical Parameters for species, strain and gender considerations
    • Ovariectomized females (>40 days old) can be purchased from commercial suppliers (e.g., Charles River Laboratories) or prepared in‐house (see unit 8.2)
    •  Juvenile males (18 to 21 days old)
  • Individual holding cages with wood chip bedding for each stimulus animal
  • Aerated Plexiglas lids for each test subject's home cage composed of ¼‐ to ½‐in. thick lexan with ten to twelve ¼‐in. diameter holes drilled in a pattern that permits aeration of the entire test arena. The lid should overlap the cage perimeter by ∼¼ in.
  • Videocamera with tripod, videotape (preferably 160 min), and a videocassette player monitor
  • Non‐toxic marker or white correction fluid
  • Timers (preferably with the ability to be preset and having recycling count‐down timers)
  • Pen and data pad or a PC with appropriate software for data entry and analysis (e.g., Observer, Noldus Information Technology)

Alternate Protocol 1: Social Discrimination Design

  • Test and stimulus animals (see protocol 1)
  • Three‐chamber testing apparatus constructed by attaching three polycarbonate housing boxes (∼30 × 20 cm) using short lengths (e.g., 1 to 2 in.) of 3‐in. diameter polyvinylchloride (PVC) tubing as tunnels. The PVC tubes can be tight‐fitted into appropriate cutouts in the box walls (see Fig. ). In the front two chambers, threaded metal rods should extend down the midline of the cage and be secured to each end of the chamber. These serve as the run guides for tethers that are attached to each collared stimulus mouse.
  • Videocamera on a tripod and videotape
  • Collars and tethers are constructed of fishing line terminal tackle (e.g., including short lengths (4 in.) of fishing line, a ball bearing swivel with a fast‐locking snap, a wire leader, wire sleeves, and a crimping tool. The wire leaders that form the tethers are attached to the rods at the snap end (Fig. ). For the collar, a wire loop is formed around the neck of a stimulus animal, threaded through the eye of a ball swivel fast‐locking snap, through a wire sleeve that is then crimped to secure the collar. The collar should be snug and located behind the mouse's ears. Extra line should be trimmed off. The snap is then attached to the eyelet end of the wire leader to form the tether‐collar assembly. These are disposable items and typically used once per test, cut to detach from the stimulus animal, and discarded. Mice will acclimate to this process but should be monitored closely during the initial period of acclimation.
  • Non‐toxic marker or white correction fluid
  • Aerated Plexiglas covers
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Literature Cited

Literature Cited
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   Bluthe, R.M. and Dantzer, R. 1990. Social recognition does not involve vasopressinergic neurotransmission in female rats. Brain Res. 535:301‐304.
   Bluthe, R.M., Gheusi, G., and Dantzer, R. 1993. Gonadal steroids influence the involvement of arginine vasopressin in social recognition in mice. Psychoneuroendocrinology 18:323‐335.
   Brand, T. and Slob, A.K. 1991. On the organization of partner preference behavior in female Wistar rats. Physiol. Behav. 49:549‐555.
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   Ferguson, J.N., Young, L.J., Hearn, E.F., Matzuk, M.M., Insel, T.R., and Winslow, J.T. 2000. Social amnesia in mice lacking the oxytocin gene. Nat. Genet. 25:284‐288.
   Gheusi, G., Bluthe, R.M., Goodall, G., and Dantzer, R. 1994. Social and individual recognition in rodents: Methodological aspects and neurobiological bases. Behavioural Processes 33:59‐88.
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   Park, J.J. and Baum, M.J. 1999. Intracerebroventricular infusion of the galanin antagonist M40 attenuates heterosexual partner preference in ferrets. Behav. Neurosci. 113:391‐400.
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   Popik, P. and van Ree, J.M. 1991. Oxytocin but not vasopressin facilitates social recognition following injection into the medial preoptic area of the rat brain. Eur. J. Neuropsychopharmacol. 1:555‐560.
   Popik, P., Vetulani, J., and van Ree, J.M. 1992. Low doses of oxytocin facilitate social recognition in rats. Psychopharmacology 106:71‐74.
   Schechter, M.D. and Calcagnetti, D.J. 1993. Trends in place preference conditioning with a cross‐indexed bibliography; 1957‐1991. Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 17:21‐41.
   Slob, A.K., De Klerk, L.W.L., and Brand, T. 1987. Homosexual and heterosexual partner preference in ovariectomized female rats: Effects of testosterone, estradiol and mating experience. Physiol. Behav. 41:571‐576.
   Thor, D.H. and Holloway, W.R. Jr. 1982. Social memory of the male laboratory rat. J. Comp. Psychol. 96:1000‐1006.
   Winslow, J.T. and Camacho, F. 1995. Cholinergic modulation of a decrement in social investigation following repeated contacts between mice. Psychopharmacology 121:164‐172.
   Winslow, J.T., Hastings, N., Carter, C.S., Harbaugh, C.R., and Insel, T.R. 1993. A role for central vasopressin in pair bonding in monogamous prairie voles. Nature 365:545‐548.
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Key References
   Gheusi et al., 1994. See above.
  Provides a general overview of issues related to social recognition, the various protocols and their applications to behavioral neuroscience.
   Grant and Mackintosh et al., 1963. See above.
  Provides comparative ethograms in mice, rats, and other rodents with common operational definitions.
   Thor and Holloway et al., 1982. See above.
  Early description of the social recognition protocol in rats.
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