Systematic phenotyping of mouse strains and mutants generated through genome-wide mutagenesis programs promises to deliver a wealth of functional genetic information. To this end, the appropriation of a standard series of phenotyping protocols is desirable to produce data sets that are consistent within and across laboratories and across time. Standard phenotyping protocols such as EMPReSS (European Mouse Phenotyping Resource for Standardised Screens) provide a series of protocols aimed at phenotyping multiple body systems that could realistically be adopted and/or reproduced in any laboratory. This includes a series of neurologic and behavioral screens, bearing in mind that this class of phenotype is well represented in targeted mutants and mutagenesis screens. Having cross-validated screening batteries in a number of laboratories and in a number of commonly used inbred strains, our group was interested in establishing whether subtle changes in cage environment could affect behavioral test outcome. Aside from unavoidable quantitative differences in test outcome, we identified significant and distinct genotype-environment-test interactions. For example, specific strain order in open-field center entries and total distance traveled can be reversed depending on the form of enrichment used, while prepulse inhibition of the acoustic startle response is, even quantitatively, unaffected by the enrichment condition. Our findings argue that unless systematically recorded, behavioral studies conducted under subtle variations in cage environment may lead to data misinterpretation, although this could be limited to particular behaviors. Further investigations into the extent and limits of genetic and environmental variables are critical for the realization of both behavioral and functional genomics endpoints.
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This work was funded by the MRC and by the EUMORPHIA project (QLG2-CT-2002-00930) which is supported by the European Commission under FP5.
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