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author:("toma, chado")
1.  Genetic Interactions with Sex Make a Relatively Small Contribution to the Heritability of Complex Traits in Mice 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e96450.
The extent to which sex-specific genetic effects contribute to phenotypic variation is largely unknown. We applied a novel Bayesian method, sparse partitioning, to detect gene by sex (GxS) and gene by gene (GxG) quantitative loci (QTLs) in 1,900 outbred heterogeneous stock mice. In an analysis of 55 phenotypes, we detected 16 GxS and 6 GxG QTLs. The increase in the amount of phenotypic variance explained by models including GxS was small, ranging from 0.14% to 4.30%. We conclude that GxS rarely make a large overall contribution to the heritability of phenotypes, however there are cases where these will be individually important.
PMCID: PMC4014490  PMID: 24811081
2.  Environmental Enrichment Alters Splenic Immune Cell Composition and Enhances Secondary Influenza Vaccine Responses in Mice 
Molecular Medicine  2014;20(1):179-190.
Chronic stress has deleterious effects on immune function, which can lead to adverse health outcomes. However, studies investigating the impact of stress reduction interventions on immunity in clinical research have yielded divergent results, potentially stemming from differences in study design and genetic heterogeneity, among other clinical research challenges. To test the hypothesis that reducing glucocorticoid levels enhances certain immune functions, we administered influenza vaccine once (prime) or twice (boost) to mice housed in either standard control caging or environmental enrichment (EE) caging. We have shown that this approach reduces mouse corticosterone production. Compared with controls, EE mice had significantly lower levels of fecal corticosterone metabolites (FCMs) and increased splenic B and T lymphocyte numbers. Corticosterone levels were negatively associated with the numbers of CD19+ (r2 = 0.43, p = 0.0017), CD4+ (r2 = 0.28, p = 0.0154) and CD8+ cells (r2 = 0.20, p = 0.0503). Vaccinated mice showed nonsignificant differences in immunoglobulin G (IgG) titer between caging groups, although EE mice tended to exhibit larger increases in titer from prime to boost than controls; the interaction between the caging group (control versus EE) and vaccine group (prime versus boost) showed a strong statistical trend (cage-group*vaccine-group, F = 4.27, p = 0.0555), suggesting that there may be distinct effects of EE caging on primary versus secondary IgG vaccine responses. Vaccine-stimulated splenocytes from boosted EE mice had a significantly greater frequency of interleukin 5 (IL-5)-secreting cells than boosted controls (mean difference 7.7, IL-5 spot-forming units/106 splenocytes, 95% confidence interval 0.24–135.1, p = 0.0493) and showed a greater increase in the frequency of IL-5–secreting cells from prime to boost. Our results suggest that corticosterone reduction via EE caging was associated with enhanced secondary vaccine responses, but had little effect on primary responses in mice. These findings help identify differences in primary and secondary vaccine responses in relationship to stress mediators that may be relevant in clinical studies.
PMCID: PMC4002849  PMID: 24687160
3.  The endocrine stress response is linked to one specific locus on chromosome 3 in a mouse model based on extremes in trait anxiety 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:579.
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is essential to control physiological stress responses in mammals. Its dysfunction is related to several mental disorders, including anxiety and depression. The aim of this study was to identify genetic loci underlying the endocrine regulation of the HPA axis.
High (HAB) and low (LAB) anxiety-related behaviour mice were established by selective inbreeding of outbred CD-1 mice to model extremes in trait anxiety. Additionally, HAB vs. LAB mice exhibit comorbid characteristics including a differential corticosterone response upon stress exposure. We crossbred HAB and LAB lines to create F1 and F2 offspring. To identify the contribution of the endocrine phenotypes to the total phenotypic variance, we examined multiple behavioural paradigms together with corticosterone secretion-based phenotypes in F2 mice by principal component analysis. Further, to pinpoint the genomic loci of the quantitative trait of the HPA axis stress response, we conducted genome-wide multipoint oligogenic linkage analyses based on Bayesian Markov chain Monte Carlo approach as well as parametric linkage in three-generation pedigrees, followed by a two-dimensional scan for epistasis and association analysis in freely segregating F2 mice using 267 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which were identified to consistently differ between HAB and LAB mice as genetic markers.
HPA axis reactivity measurements and behavioural phenotypes were represented by independent principal components and demonstrated no correlation. Based on this finding, we identified one single quantitative trait locus (QTL) on chromosome 3 showing a very strong evidence for linkage (2ln (L-score) > 10, LOD > 23) and significant association (lowest Bonferroni adjusted p < 10-28) to the neuroendocrine stress response. The location of the linkage peak was estimated at 42.3 cM (95% confidence interval: 41.3 - 43.3 cM) and was shown to be in epistasis (p-adjusted < 0.004) with the locus at 35.3 cM on the same chromosome. The QTL harbours genes involved in steroid synthesis and cardiovascular effects.
The very prominent effect on stress-induced corticosterone secretion of the genomic locus on chromosome 3 and its involvement in epistasis highlights the critical role of this specific locus in the regulation of the HPA axis.
PMCID: PMC3557225  PMID: 23114097
F2; Corticosterone; Stress response; HPA axis; QTL
4.  Dendritic Morphology of Hippocampal and Amygdalar Neurons in Adolescent Mice Is Resilient to Genetic Differences in Stress Reactivity 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38971.
Many studies have shown that chronic stress or corticosterone over-exposure in rodents leads to extensive dendritic remodeling, particularly of principal neurons in the CA3 hippocampal area and the basolateral amygdala. We here investigated to what extent genetic predisposition of mice to high versus low stress reactivity, achieved through selective breeding of CD-1 mice, is also associated with structural plasticity in Golgi-stained neurons. Earlier, it was shown that the highly stress reactive (HR) compared to the intermediate (IR) and low (LR) stress reactive mice line presents a phenotype, with respect to neuroendocrine parameters, sleep architecture, emotional behavior and cognition, that recapitulates some of the features observed in patients suffering from major depression. In late adolescent males of the HR, IR, and LR mouse lines, we observed no significant differences in total dendritic length, number of branch points and branch tips, summated tip order, number of primary dendrites or dendritic complexity of either CA3 pyramidal neurons (apical as well as basal dendrites) or principal neurons in the basolateral amygdala. Apical dendrites of CA1 pyramidal neurons were also unaffected by the differences in stress reactivity of the animals; marginally higher length and complexity of the basal dendrites were found in LR compared to IR but not HR mice. In the same CA1 pyramidal neurons, spine density of distal apical tertiary dendrites was significantly higher in LR compared to IR or HR animals. We tentatively conclude that the dendritic complexity of principal hippocampal and amygdala neurons is remarkably stable in the light of a genetic predisposition to high versus low stress reactivity, while spine density seems more plastic. The latter possibly contributes to the behavioral phenotype of LR versus HR animals.
PMCID: PMC3373517  PMID: 22701737
5.  The Calm Mouse: An Animal Model of Stress Reduction 
Molecular Medicine  2012;18(1):606-617.
Chronic stress is associated with negative health outcomes and is linked with neuroendocrine changes, deleterious effects on innate and adaptive immunity, and central nervous system neuropathology. Although stress management is commonly advocated clinically, there is insufficient mechanistic understanding of how decreasing stress affects disease pathogenesis. Therefore, we have developed a “calm mouse model” with caging enhancements designed to reduce murine stress. Male BALB/c mice were divided into four groups: control (Cntl), standard caging; calm (Calm), large caging to reduce animal density, a cardboard nest box for shelter, paper nesting material to promote innate nesting behavior, and a polycarbonate tube to mimic tunneling; control exercise (Cntl Ex), standard caging with a running wheel, known to reduce stress; and calm exercise (Calm Ex), calm caging with a running wheel. Calm, Cntl Ex and Calm Ex animals exhibited significantly less corticosterone production than Cntl animals. We also observed changes in spleen mass, and in vitro splenocyte studies demonstrated that Calm Ex animals had innate and adaptive immune responses that were more sensitive to acute handling stress than those in Cntl. Calm animals gained greater body mass than Cntl, although they had similar food intake, and we also observed changes in body composition, using magnetic resonance imaging. Together, our results suggest that the Calm mouse model represents a promising approach to studying the biological effects of stress reduction in the context of health and in conjunction with existing disease models.
PMCID: PMC3388136  PMID: 22398685
6.  Sleep disturbances in highly stress reactive mice: Modeling endophenotypes of major depression 
BMC Neuroscience  2011;12:29.
Neuronal mechanisms underlying affective disorders such as major depression (MD) are still poorly understood. By selectively breeding mice for high (HR), intermediate (IR), or low (LR) reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, we recently established a new genetic animal model of extremes in stress reactivity (SR). Studies characterizing this SR mouse model on the behavioral, endocrine, and neurobiological levels revealed several similarities with key endophenotypes observed in MD patients. HR mice were shown to have changes in rhythmicity and sleep measures such as rapid eye movement sleep (REMS) and non-REM sleep (NREMS) as well as in slow wave activity, indicative of reduced sleep efficacy and increased REMS. In the present study we were interested in how far a detailed spectral analysis of several electroencephalogram (EEG) parameters, including relevant frequency bands, could reveal further alterations of sleep architecture in this animal model. Eight adult males of each of the three breeding lines were equipped with epidural EEG and intramuscular electromyogram (EMG) electrodes. After recovery, EEG and EMG recordings were performed for two days.
Differences in the amount of REMS and wakefulness and in the number of transitions between vigilance states were found in HR mice, when compared with IR and LR animals. Increased frequencies of transitions from NREMS to REMS and from REMS to wakefulness in HR animals were robust across the light-dark cycle. Detailed statistical analyses of spectral EEG parameters showed that especially during NREMS the power of the theta (6-9 Hz), alpha (10-15 Hz) and eta (16-22.75 Hz) bands was significantly different between the three breeding lines. Well defined distributions of significant power differences could be assigned to different times during the light and the dark phase. Especially during NREMS, group differences were robust and could be continuously monitored across the light-dark cycle.
The HR mice, i.e. those animals that have a genetic predisposition to hyper-activating their HPA axis in response to stressors, showed disturbed patterns in sleep architecture, similar to what is known from depressed patients. Significant alterations in several frequency bands of the EEG, which also seem to at least partly mimic clinical observations, suggest the SR mouse lines as a promising animal model for basic research of mechanisms underlying sleep impairments in MD.
PMCID: PMC3068984  PMID: 21435199
7.  Effect of Population Heterogenization on the Reproducibility of Mouse Behavior: A Multi-Laboratory Study 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(1):e16461.
In animal experiments, animals, husbandry and test procedures are traditionally standardized to maximize test sensitivity and minimize animal use, assuming that this will also guarantee reproducibility. However, by reducing within-experiment variation, standardization may limit inference to the specific experimental conditions. Indeed, we have recently shown in mice that standardization may generate spurious results in behavioral tests, accounting for poor reproducibility, and that this can be avoided by population heterogenization through systematic variation of experimental conditions. Here, we examined whether a simple form of heterogenization effectively improves reproducibility of test results in a multi-laboratory situation. Each of six laboratories independently ordered 64 female mice of two inbred strains (C57BL/6NCrl, DBA/2NCrl) and examined them for strain differences in five commonly used behavioral tests under two different experimental designs. In the standardized design, experimental conditions were standardized as much as possible in each laboratory, while they were systematically varied with respect to the animals' test age and cage enrichment in the heterogenized design. Although heterogenization tended to improve reproducibility by increasing within-experiment variation relative to between-experiment variation, the effect was too weak to account for the large variation between laboratories. However, our findings confirm the potential of systematic heterogenization for improving reproducibility of animal experiments and highlight the need for effective and practicable heterogenization strategies.
PMCID: PMC3031565  PMID: 21305027
8.  Morphological, physiological and behavioural evaluation of a ‘Mice in Space’ housing system 
Environmental conditions likely affect physiology and behaviour of mice used for life sciences research on Earth or in Space. Here, we analysed the effects of cage confinement on the weightbearing musculoskeletal system, behaviour and stress of wild-type mice (C57BL/6JRj, 30 g b.wt., total n = 24) housed for 25 days in a prototypical ground-based and fully automated life support habitat device called “Mice in Space” (MIS). Compared with control housing (individually ventilated cages) the MIS mice revealed no significant changes in soleus muscle size and myofiber distribution (type I vs. II) and quality of bone (3-D microarchitecture and mineralisation of calvaria, spine and femur) determined by confocal and micro-computed tomography. Corticosterone metabolism measured non-invasively (faeces) monitored elevated adrenocortical activity at only start of the MIS cage confinement (day 1). Behavioural tests (i.e., grip strength, rotarod, L/D box, elevated plus-maze, open field, aggressiveness) performed subsequently revealed only minor changes in motor performance (MIS vs. controls). The MIS habitat will not, on its own, produce major effects that could confound interpretation of data induced by microgravity exposure during spaceflight. Our results may be even more helpful in developing multidisciplinary protocols with adequate scenarios addressing molecular to systems levels using mice of various genetic phenotypes in many laboratories.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00360-008-0330-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC2755731  PMID: 19130060
Mouse physiology; Spaceflight; Musculoskeletal system; Stress; Behaviour; Genetically engineered animal models; Animal housing and cage
9.  Rhythmicity in Mice Selected for Extremes in Stress Reactivity: Behavioural, Endocrine and Sleep Changes Resembling Endophenotypes of Major Depression 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(1):e4325.
Dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, including hyper- or hypo-activity of the stress hormone system, plays a critical role in the pathophysiology of mood disorders such as major depression (MD). Further biological hallmarks of MD are disturbances in circadian rhythms and sleep architecture. Applying a translational approach, an animal model has recently been developed, focusing on the deviation in sensitivity to stressful encounters. This so-called ‘stress reactivity’ (SR) mouse model consists of three separate breeding lines selected for either high (HR), intermediate (IR), or low (LR) corticosterone increase in response to stressors.
Methodology/Principle Findings
In order to contribute to the validation of the SR mouse model, our study combined the analysis of behavioural and HPA axis rhythmicity with sleep-EEG recordings in the HR/IR/LR mouse lines. We found that hyper-responsiveness to stressors was associated with psychomotor alterations (increased locomotor activity and exploration towards the end of the resting period), resembling symptoms like restlessness, sleep continuity disturbances and early awakenings that are commonly observed in melancholic depression. Additionally, HR mice also showed neuroendocrine abnormalities similar to symptoms of MD patients such as reduced amplitude of the circadian glucocorticoid rhythm and elevated trough levels. The sleep-EEG analyses, furthermore, revealed changes in rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep as well as slow wave activity, indicative of reduced sleep efficacy and REM sleep disinhibition in HR mice.
Thus, we could show that by selectively breeding mice for extremes in stress reactivity, clinically relevant endophenotypes of MD can be modelled. Given the importance of rhythmicity and sleep disturbances as biomarkers of MD, both animal and clinical studies on the interaction of behavioural, neuroendocrine and sleep parameters may reveal molecular pathways that ultimately lead to the discovery of new targets for antidepressant drugs tailored to match specific pathologies within MD.
PMCID: PMC2627900  PMID: 19177162

Results 1-9 (9)