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Journal Article

The social instability stress paradigm in rat and mouse: A systematic review of protocols, limitations, and recommendations


Schmidt,  Mathias V.
RG Stress Resilience, Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Max Planck Society;

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Koert, A., Ploeger, A., Bockting, C. L. H., Schmidt, M. V., Lucassen, P. J., Schrantee, A., et al. (2021). The social instability stress paradigm in rat and mouse: A systematic review of protocols, limitations, and recommendations. NEUROBIOLOGY OF STRESS, 15: 100410. doi:10.1016/j.ynstr.2021.100410.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-C8B5-9
Background: Social stress is an important environmental risk factor for the development of psychiatric disorders, including depression and anxiety disorders. Social stress paradigms are commonly used in rats and mice to gain insight into the pathogenesis of these disorders. The social instability stress (SIS) paradigm entails frequent (up to several times a week) introduction of one or multiple unfamiliar same-sex home-cage partners. The subsequent recurring formation of a new social hierarchy results in chronic and unpredictable physical and social stress.
Purpose: We compare and discuss the stress-related behavioral and physiological impact of SIS protocols in rat and mouse, and address limitations due to protocol variability. We further provide practical recommendations to optimize reproducibility of SIS protocols.
Methods: We conducted a systematic review in accordance with the PRISMA statement in the following three databases: PubMed, Web of Science and Scopus. Our search strategy was not restricted to year of publication but was limited to articles in English that were published in peer-reviewed journals. Search terms included "social* instab*" AND ("animal" OR "rodent" OR "rat*" OR "mice" OR "mouse").
Results: Thirty-three studies met our inclusion criteria. Fifteen articles used a SIS protocol in which the composition of two cage mates is altered daily for sixteen days (SIS16D). Eleven articles used a SIS protocol in which the composition of four cage mates is altered twice per week for 49 days (SIS49D). The remaining seven studies used SIS protocols that differed from these two protocols in experiment duration or cage mate quantity. Behavioral impact of SIS was primarily assessed by quantifying depressive-like, anxiety-like, social-, and cognitive behavior. Physiological impact of SIS was primarily assessed using metabolic parameters, hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, and the assessment of neurobiological parameters such as neuro-plasticity and neurogenesis.
Conclusion: Both shorter and longer SIS protocols induce a wide range of stress-related behavioral and physiological impairments that are relevant for the pathophysiology of depression and anxiety disorders. To date, SIS16D has only been reported in rats, whereas SIS49D has only been reported in mice. Given this species-specific application as well as variability in reported SIS protocols, additional studies should determine whether SIS effects are protocol duration- or species-specific. We address several issues, including a lack of consistency in the used SIS protocols, and suggest practical, concrete improvements in design and reporting of SIS protocols to increase standardization and reproducibility of this etiologically relevant preclinical model of social stress.