Goto, T., Okayama, T., Toyoda, A. 2015. Strain differences in temporal changes of nesting behaviors in C57BL/6N, DBA/2N, and their F1 hybrid mice assessed by a three-dimensional monitoring system. Behavioural Processes 119, 86-92.
Nest building is one of the innate behaviors that are widely observed throughout the animal kingdom. Previous studies have reported specific brain regions and genetic loci associated with nest building in mice. These studies mainly evaluated the nest structure, without observing the nesting process. In this study, we evaluated the effects of strain and learning on the nesting process of mice using a 3D depth camera. To determine the quality of the nest structure, a conventional scoring method, Deacon scores 1–5, was applied to the recorded depth images. The final score of the nest, latency to start nesting behavior, and latencies to reach Deacon scores 3–5, were determined using three genetically different mouse strains—C57BL/6NCrl (B6), DBA/2NCrlCrlj (DBA), and B6D2F1/Crl (B6D2F1). The final score of the DBA nest was significantly lower than that of the B6D2F1 nest, and DBA mice showed significantly longer latency to start nest building than the other two strains in the first trial. By observing the time course of nest building, we confirmed that DBA mice took significantly longer to build their nests than B6 and B6D2F1 mice. Although we did not find any significant differences between DBA and B6 mice in the final assessment of the nest based on the Deacon method, overnight monitoring of the nesting behavior using a 3D depth camera could elucidate the clear differences in the amount of time spent nesting between DBA and B6 mice. In addition, the learning effect was more evident in DBA mice than it was in B6 in terms of latencies to reach Deacon score 3–5 in five repeated trials. DBA mice showed a gradual decrease in latency to build, whereas nesting behaviors of B6 mice were relatively consistent throughout the five trials. Therefore, our 3D depth image method gives higher resolution and structural information regarding the nesting process in mice. Future genetic analyses using the 3D assessment system will provide novel insights into the complex genetic basis for nesting and other behaviors in animals.