Stress-based animal models of depression: Do we actually know what we are doing?
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Depression is one of the leading causes of disability and a significant health-concern worldwide. Much of our current understanding on the pathogenesis of depression and the pharmacology of antidepressant drugs is based on pre-clinical models. Three of the most popular stress-based rodent models are the forced swimming test, the chronic mild stress paradigm and the learned helplessness model. Despite their recognizable advantages and limitations, they are associated with an immense variability due to the high number of design parameters that define them. Only few studies have reported how minor modifications of these parameters affect the model phenotype. Thus, the existing variability in how these models are used has been a strong barrier for drug development as well as benchmark and evaluation of these pre-clinical models of depression. It also has been the source of confusing variability in the experimental outcomes between research groups using the same models. In this review, we summarize the known variability in the experimental protocols, identify the main and relevant parameters for each model and describe the variable values using characteristic examples. Our view of depression and our efforts to discover novel and effective antidepressants is largely based on our detailed knowledge of these testing paradigms, and requires a sound understanding around the importance of individual parameters to optimize and improve these pre-clinical models. © 2016 Elsevier B.V.