Excessive nest building is a unique behavioural phenotype in the deer mouse model of obsessive-compulsive disorder

De Wet Wolmarans, Dan J. Stein, Brian H. Harvey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a phenotypically heterogeneous condition characterised by time-consuming intrusive thoughts and/or compulsions. Irrespective of the symptom type diagnosed, the severity of OCD is characterised by heterogeneity in symptom presentation that complicates diagnosis and treatment. Heterogeneity of symptoms would be invaluable in an animal model. Nest building behaviour forms part of the normal behavioural repertoire of rodents and demonstrates profound between-species differences. However, it has been proposed that within-species differences in nest building behaviour (i.e. aberrant vs. normal nest building) may resemble obsessive-compulsive-like symptoms. In an attempt to investigate whether other obsessive-compulsive-like behaviours are present in an animal model of OCD, or if aberrant nest building behaviour may represent a unique obsessive-compulsive phenotype in such a model, the current study assessed nest building behaviour in high (H, viz. obsessive-compulsive) and non (N, viz. normal) stereotypical deer mice. Subsequently, 12 N and H animals, respectively, were provided with an excess of cotton wool daily for one week prior to and following four weeks of high-dose oral escitalopram treatment (50 mg/kg/day). Data from the current investigation demonstrate daily nesting activity to be highly variable in deer mice, with stereotypy and nest building being independent behaviours. However, we identified unique aberrant large nest building behaviour in 30% of animals from both cohorts that was attenuated by escitalopram to pre-treatment nesting scores of the larger group. In summary, behavioural and drug-treatment evidence confirms that deer mouse behaviour does indeed resemble symptom heterogeneity related to OCD, and as such expands its face and predictive validity for the disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)867-874
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Deer mouse
  • OCD animal model
  • SSRI response
  • perseverative behaviour
  • symptom heterogeneity


Dive into the research topics of 'Excessive nest building is a unique behavioural phenotype in the deer mouse model of obsessive-compulsive disorder'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this