A Mouse Model for Observational Fear Learning and the Empathetic Response

Daejong Jeon1, Hee‐Sup Shin2

1 Brain Behavior and Therapeutics Laboratory, Department of Bio and Brain Engineering, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Daejeon, Republic of Korea, 2 Brain Science Institute, Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), Seoul, Republic of Korea
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Neuroscience
Unit Number:  Unit 8.27
DOI:  10.1002/0471142301.ns0827s57
Online Posting Date:  October, 2011
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Research on observed fear and its relation to human mental disorders has been hampered by the lack of a suitable animal model. The empathetic response, which is impaired in various mental disorders, requires the ability to recognize the emotions and feelings of others. Due to the lack of a robust behavioral assay system, studies of empathy in laboratory animals have been absent from the literature. This unit describes a protocol for assessing social observational fear learning as a precursor of empathy in the mouse. In this assay, the observer animal is conditioned for context‐dependent fear by observing the behavior of the demonstrator animal receiving aversive stimuli. The magnitude of the fear response of the observer is positively influenced by the animal's familiarity with the demonstrator. This indicates that the degree of familiarity, and its relationship to empathy, can be modeled in an animal system by a method relevant to human disease. Curr. Protoc. Neurosci. 57:8.27.1‐8.27.9. © 2011 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Keywords: context‐dependent fear conditioning; empathy; familiarity; social learning; social fear; observational fear

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Table of Contents

  • Commentary
  • Literature Cited
  • Figures
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Basic Protocol 1:

  • Mice: 10‐ to 15‐week‐old male C57BL/6J mice
  • Observational fear‐conditioning chamber (Fig. ): The apparatus consists of two identical chambers (18 × 17.5 × 38 cm) partitioned equally by a transparent Plexiglas divider (or opaque, when required) in the middle; the floor of the chamber is similar to the conventional fear‐conditioning box, i.e., covered with stainless steel rods (5‐mm diameter), spaced in parallel, each 0.7‐cm apart
  • Computer‐controlled, programmable animal shocker system (0‐2 mA output): An animal shocker and a software program [In this study we used a H13‐16 Precision Regulated Animal Shocker and a FreezeFrame or WinLinc software, (Coulbourn Instruments); ENV‐410 constant current aversive stimulator (manufacturer, location) and SOF‐700RA software (Med‐associates)]
  • Digital timer and a stopwatch to monitor the time for the test and to analyze the time in freezing behaviors
  • Sound‐attenuating cubicle with a fan
  • Video camera to record animals' behaviors, which is located inside the sound‐attenuating cubicle
  • 70% ethanol (used to clean the inside of the conditioning chamber before and in between tests)
NOTE: The observational fear conditioning apparatus is easily made by modifying a shuttle box used for the avoidance test.
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Literature Cited

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