This study posed the question whether strain differences in stress-reactivity lead to differential behavioral responses in two different tests of anxiety. Strain differences in anxiety-measures are known, but strain differences in the behavioral responses to acute prior stress are not well characterized.
We studied male Fisher 344 (F344) and Wistar Kyoto (WKY) rats basally and immediately after one hour restraint stress. To distinguish between the effects of novelty and prior stress, we also investigated behavior after repeated exposure to the test chamber. Two behavioral tests were explored; the elevated plus maze (EPM) and the open field (OFT), both of which are thought to measure activity, exploration and anxiety-like behaviors. Additionally, rearing, a voluntary behavior, and grooming, a relatively automatic, stress-responsive stereotyped behavior were measured in both tests.
Prior exposure to the test environment increased anxiety-related measures regardless of prior stress, reflecting context-dependent learning process in both tests and strains. Activity decreased in response to repeated testing in both tests and both strains, but prior stress decreased activity only in the OFT which was reversed by repeated testing. Prior stress decreased anxiety-related measures in the EPM, only in F344s, while in the OFT, stress led to increased freezing mainly in WKYs.
Data suggest that differences in stressfulness of these tests predict the behavior of the two strains of animals according to their stress-reactivity and coping style, but that repeated testing can overcome some of these differences.