JoVE Logo
Faculty Resource Center

Sign In





Representative Results






Social Threat-Safety Test Uncovers Psychosocial Stress-Related Phenotypes

Published: December 15th, 2023



1Leibniz-Institute for Resilience Research, 2Translational Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Johannes Gutenberg University Medical Center

The social threat-safety test allows a simultaneous assessment of social avoidance development as a measurement of aversive conditioned learning and social threat-safety discrimination ability, both utilized to identify stress-susceptible and stress-resilient individuals within a single group of chronically socially defeated male mice.

Social stress is a major cause of the development of mental disorders. To enhance the translational value of preclinical studies, social stress experience and its behavioral impact on mice should be comparable to humans. Chronic social defeat (CSD) utilizes a type of social stress involving physical attacks and sensory threats to induce mental dysfunctions resembling human affective disorders. To strengthen the psychosocial component of CSD, a 10-day CSD protocol was applied in which daily physical attacks are standardized to three 10 s episodes followed by a 24 h sensory phase. After the 10th sensory phase, the CSD protocol is followed by a refined behavioral assay called the social threat-safety test (STST). Post-stress behavioral assays need to determine how and to what extent the social stressor has influenced behavior. The STST allows chronically socially defeated male mice to interact with 2 novel male individuals (social targets): one social target from the attacking strain encountered during the CSD days and the other from a novel strain. Both are presented simultaneously in different compartments of a three-chambered test arena. The test enables a simultaneous assessment of social avoidance development to measure successful aversive conditioned learning and social threat-safety discrimination ability. The development of social avoidance towards both strains reflects a generalized aversive response and thus, a measurement of stress susceptibility. Meanwhile, the development of social avoidance towards only the attacking strain reflects threat-safety discrimination and thus, a measurement of stress resilience. Finally, the absence of social avoidance towards the attacking strain reflects impaired aversive conditioned learning. The protocol aims to refine the currently used mouse models of stress susceptibility/resilience by including translational criteria, specifically threat-safety discrimination and aversive response generalization, to categorize a single group of chronically socially defeated animals into resilient and susceptible subgroups, eventually advancing future translational approaches.

Stress is defined as the disruption of homeostasis caused by physical or psychological stimuli1. Stress is a well-known major risk factor for the development of mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety2,3. In particular, social stress is considered a major risk factor for the development of stress-related mental disorders4. One type of social stress that has gained particular importance in research is social subordination stress5. Mice, like humans, are capable of a rich set of social behavior

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

All procedures were performed in accordance with the European Communities Council Directive regarding the care and use of animals for experimental procedures and were approved by local authorities (Landesuntersuchungsamt Rheinland-Pfalz). Figure 1 represents a schematic timeline.

1. Treatment

  1. Animals of interest: Obtain C57BL6/J male mice at 7 weeks of age, and upon arrival, single-house in a temperature- and humidity-controlled facili.......

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

Social interaction index as a measurement of aversive conditioned response
A social interaction index ≥1 reflects greater social interaction with the respective social target compared to the exploration of the empty mesh enclosures. Under baseline conditions, defined here as having neither appetitive nor aversive experience with the characterizing traits of a specific strain (here both social targets to the control group and the 129/Sv social target to the treatment group), intact sociability.......

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

The behavioral protocol here describes the Social Threat-Safety Test, used to divide a single group post-CSD treatment into three different subgroups, serving as a method to investigate the underlying biology of stress susceptibility and resilience and to test potential therapies. The biological context and technical details need to be carefully considered to guide a thorough experimental design.

Different housing conditions can alter aggression sociability levels, potentially influencing resu.......

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

This research is supported by the Collaborative Research Center 1193, Subproject Z02, funded by the German National Research Foundation (SFB1193, Neurobiology of Resilience) and the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation (grant to Leibniz Institute for Resilience Research and Individual Phenotyping and High-Resolution Automated Behavioural Analysis). We would like to thank Dr. Konstantin Radyushkin and Mrs. Sandra Reichel for their technical assistance as well as Mrs. Hanna Kim for her English language support. The funding sources had no involvement in the model design; collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the writing of the protocol; and in the decision to s....

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Arenas Noldus, Sociability cage, Wageningen, the Netherlands Three-chambered, rectangle in shape with a total size of 60 cm x  40 cm, made of acrylic transparent walls and smooth floors
Camera for video recording Basler AG, Germany
An der Strusbek 60-62
22926 Ahrensburg
 ace Classic
If using automatic detection program, make sure cameras are compatible
Camera objective KOWA Kowa Optimed Deutschland GmbH
Fichtenstr. 123
40233 Duesseldorf: LMVZ4411 | 1/1.8" 4.4~11mm Varifokal Objektiv
Part-No. 10504
Detection program/Timer  Noldus, EthoVision-XT, Wageningen, the Netherlands Detection can be achieved either manually (using a timer or a software for manual scoring) or automatically
Housing cages ZOONLAB GmbH, Hermannstraße 6,
44579 Castrop-Rauxel
3010010 Type 2 cages: 265 mm x 205 mm x 140 mm (l x w x h) i.e. 360 cm² bottom area. Made of Polycarbonate (Makrolone©) and Polysulfone. Lids are made of stainless steel. European standard cages for up to 5 mice (20–25 g). Autoclavable up to 134 °C
Mesh enclosures  Part of the Arena Package: Noldus, Sociability cage, Wageningen, the Netherlands Small acrylic or metal cage-like with a diameter of 100 mm and a height of 200 mm with openings of a 10 mm in size. Two mesh enclosures per arena would work but four is preferable (see point 2.5 in protocol)
Mesh wall selfmade N/A Acrylic or metal, one for each cage. Size depends on cages used. The walls must not allow the two animals to have a physical contact
Social targets: Mice of the strains CD-1 and 129/Sv; retired male breeders Mice provided by Charles River:
Strain name: CD-1®IGS Mouse
Crl:CD1(ICR); 129S2/SvPasCrl  CD-1 and 129/Sv retired male breeders, single-housed, novel (unknown) conspecifics to the animals of interest. If retired male breeders are not available then males older than 1 year from both strains would suffice

  1. Hyman, S. E. How mice cope with stressful social situations. Cell. 131 (2), 232-234 (2007).
  2. Kessler, R. C. The effects of stressful life events on depression. Annual Review of Psychology. 48 (1), 191-214 (1997).
  3. Vos, T., et al. Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 301 acute and chronic diseases and injuries in 188 countries, 1990-2013: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study, 2013. The Lancet. 386 (9995), 743-800 (2015).
  4. Björkqvist, K. Social defeat as a stressor in humans. Physiology & Behavior. 73 (3), 435-442 (2001).
  5. Blanchard, R. J., McKittrick, C. R., Blanchard, D. C. Animal models of social stress: effects on behavior and brain neurochemical systems. Physiology & Behavior. 73 (3), 261-271 (2001).
  6. Singleton, G. R., Krebs, C. J. Chapter 3- The Secret World of Wild Mice. The Mouse in Biomedical Research. American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine. The Mouse in Biomedical Research (Second Edition). 1, 25-51 (2007).
  7. Kondrakiewicz, K., Kostecki, M., Szadzińska, W., Knapska, E. Ecological validity of social interaction tests in rats and mice. Genes, Brain, and Behavior. 18 (1), e12525 (2019).
  8. Martinez, M., Calvo-Torrent, A., Pico-Alfonso, M. A. Social defeat and subordination as models of social stress in laboratory rodents: a review. Aggressive Behavior: Official Journal of the International Society for Research on Aggression. 24 (4), 241-256 (1998).
  9. Golden, S. A., Covington III, H. E., Berton, O., Russo, S. J. A standardized protocol for repeated social defeat stress in mice. Nature Protocols. 6 (8), 1183 (2011).
  10. van der Kooij, M. A., et al. Chronic social stress-induced hyperglycemia in mice couples individual stress susceptibility to impaired spatial memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 115 (43), E10187-E10196 (2018).
  11. Chartier, M. J., Walker, J. R., Stein, M. B. Considering comorbidity in social phobia. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. 38 (12), 728-734 (2003).
  12. Cohen, H., Zohar, J., Matar, M. A., Kaplan, Z., Geva, A. B. Unsupervised fuzzy clustering analysis supports behavioral cutoff criteria in an animal model of post-traumatic stress disorder. Biological Psychiatry. 58 (8), 640-650 (2005).
  13. Scharf, S. H., Schmidt, M. V. Animal models of stress vulnerability and resilience in translational research. Current Psychiatry Reports. 14 (2), 159-165 (2012).
  14. Krishnan, V., et al. Molecular adaptations underlying susceptibility and resistance to social defeat in brain reward regions. Cell. 131 (2), 391-404 (2007).
  15. Ayash, S., Schmitt, U., Müller, M. B. Chronic social defeat-induced social avoidance as a proxy of stress resilience in mice involves conditioned learning. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 120, 64-71 (2020).
  16. Ayash, S., et al. Fear circuit-based neurobehavioural signatures mirror resilience to chronic social stress in mouse. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 120 (17), e2205576120 (2023).
  17. Duits, P., et al. Updated meta-analysis of classical fear conditioning in the anxiety disorders. Depression and Anxiety. 32 (4), 239-253 (2015).
  18. Coifman, K. G., Bonanno, G. A., Rafaeli, E. Affect dynamics, bereavement, and resilience to loss. Journal of Happiness Studies. 8 (3), 371-392 (2007).
  19. Waugh, C. E., Thompson, R. J., Gotlib, I. H. Flexible emotional responsiveness in trait resilience. Emotion. 11 (5), 1059 (2011).
  20. Bonanno, G. A. Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events. American Psychologist. 59 (1), 20 (2004).
  21. Bonanno, G. A. Resilience in the face of potential trauma. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 14 (3), 135-138 (2005).
  22. Yehuda, R., Flory, J. D., Southwick, S., Charney, D. S. Developing an agenda for translational studies of resilience and vulnerability following trauma exposure. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1071 (1), 379-396 (2006).
  23. Grillon, C., Morgan III, C. A. Fear-potentiated startle conditioning to explicit and contextual cues in Gulf War veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 108 (1), 134 (1999).
  24. Brewin, C. R. A cognitive neuroscience account of post-traumatic stress disorder and its treatment. Behaviour Research and Therapy. 39 (4), 373-393 (2001).
  25. Milad, M. R., Rauch, S. L., Pitman, R. K., Quirk, G. J. Fear extinction in rats: implications for human brain imaging and anxiety disorders. Biological Psychology. 73 (1), 61-71 (2006).
  26. Jovanovic, T., Norrholm, S. D. Neural mechanisms of impaired fear inhibition in post-traumatic stress disorder. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 5, 44 (2011).
  27. Morton, D. B., Griffiths, P. H. Guidelines on the recognition of pain, distress and discomfort in experimental animals and an hypothesis for assessment. The Veterinary Record. 116 (6), 431-436 (1985).
  28. Goldsmith, J. F., Brain, P. F., Benton, D. Effects of the duration of individual or group housing on behavioural and adrenocortical reactivity in male mice. Physiology & Behavior. 21 (5), 757-760 (1978).
  29. Cairns, R. B., Hood, K. E., Midlam, J. On fighting in mice: Is there a sensitive period for isolation effects. Animal Behaviour. 33 (1), 166-180 (1985).
  30. Varlinskaya, E. I., Spear, L. P., Spear, N. E. Social behavior and social motivation in adolescent rats: role of housing conditions and partner's activity. Physiology & Behavior. 67 (4), 475-482 (1999).
  31. Sial, O. K., Warren, B. L., Alcantara, L. F., Parise, E. M., Bolaños-Guzmán, C. A. Vicarious social defeat stress: Bridging the gap between physical and emotional stress. Journal of Neuroscience Methods. 258, 94-103 (2016).
  32. Brown, R. E., Brown, R. E., Macdonald, D. W. . The rodents II. Suborder Myomorpha. [In: Social Odours in Mammals]. 1, (1985).
  33. Haney, M., Miczek, K. A. Ultrasounds during agonistic interactions between female rats (Rattus norvegicus). Journal of Comparative Psychology. 107 (4), 373 (1993).
  34. Warren, B. L., et al. Neurobiological sequelae of witnessing stressful events in adult mice. Biological Psychiatry. 73 (1), 7-14 (2013).
  35. Malatynska, E., Knapp, R. J. Dominant-submissive behavior as models of mania and depression. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 29 (4-5), 715-737 (2005).
  36. Avgustinovich, D. F., Kovalenko, I. L., Kudryavtseva, N. N. A model of anxious depression: persistence of behavioral pathology. Neuroscience and Behavioral Physiology. 35 (9), 917-924 (2005).
  37. Vennin, C., et al. A resilience related glial-neurovascular network is transcriptionally activated after chronic social defeat in male mice. Cells. 11 (21), 3405 (2022).
  38. Ayash, S., Schmitt, U., Lyons, D. M., Müller, M. B. Stress inoculation in mice induces global resilience. Translational Psychiatry. 10 (1), 200 (2020).
  39. Yuan, R., et al. Long-term effects of intermittent early life stress on primate prefrontal-subcortical functional connectivity. Neuropsychopharmacology. 46 (7), 1348-1356 (2021).
  40. Lyons, D. M., Ayash, S., Schatzberg, A. F., Müller, M. B. Ecological validity of social defeat stressors in mouse models of vulnerability and resilience. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 145, 105032 (2023).
  41. Oizumi, H., et al. Influence of aging on the behavioral phenotypes of C57BL/6J mice after social defeat. PLoS One. 14 (9), e0222076 (2019).

This article has been published

Video Coming Soon

JoVE Logo


Terms of Use





Copyright © 2024 MyJoVE Corporation. All rights reserved