Morphine-induced stereotyped thigmotaxis could appear as enhanced fear and anxiety in some behavioural tests

S. R. Hodgson, R. S. Hofford, S. G. Buckman, P. J. Wellman, S. Eitan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


This study questions whether the classical interpretation for unconditional fear/anxiety tests is valid when animals are under the influence of some drugs of abuse. We used a modified version of the trimethylthiazoline (TMT)-avoidance task, a measure of unconditional fear. Halfway into a corridor maze we placed a 3-cm-high barrier. This provided a wall in the middle of the corridor, one that the mice can easily climb over. Saline- and morphine-treated mice were randomly placed in the safe, or unsafe, (TMT) side and observed for 10 min. As expected, saline-injected mice spent only about 25% of the time in the TMT side, regardless of the side they were initially placed into. In contrast, morphine-treated mice did not cross the barrier even once, regardless of their initial placement. Specifically, morphine-treated mice initially placed in the TMT side appeared to exhibit the expected reduction in unconditional fear, that is, spending the entire time in the TMT side, a significant increase over the controls. Yet, morphine-treated mice placed in the safe side never even entered the TMT side; thus, these mice appeared to exhibit a behavioural response that is classically interpreted as increased fear, that is, spending significantly less time in the TMT side versus the controls. In summary, this study demonstrates that the classical interpretation of some unconditioned fear or anxiety tests could be misleading when animals are under the influence of drugs that might induce other competing behaviours.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)875-880
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Elevated plus maze (EPM)
  • Hyper-locomotion
  • Opioid
  • Species-dependent differences
  • Trimethylthiazoline (TMT)


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