In the present study, reciprocal embryo transfers were conducted to examine genetic and maternal effects on the baseline and fear-sensitized acoustic startle response (ASR) in the two inbred strains C3H/HeN and DBA/2JHd and the outbred strain NMRI. The largest differences in the ASR were found in untreated strains (effect size 0.6). The transfer procedure per se had a significant effect on the behavior of NMRI mice resulting in a reduction in the baseline, and an increase in the fear-sensitized ASR. In contrast, there were no significant effects of the transfer procedure in the two inbred strains. Autosomal genetic effects had a stronger impact on the amplitude of the ASR (effect sizes 0.5) than sex (effect sizes 0.06) as revealed by reciprocal embryo transfer. Nevertheless, the genetic effects on the fear-sensitized ASR were somewhat more variable and strain-dependent (effect sizes 0.1-0.2). Global maternal effects were detected after embryo transfer into NMRI mothers resulting in a larger reduction of the ASR in the offspring of DBA and NMRI donors than C3H donors (effect sizes 0.1-0.2). An additional fostering procedure was introduced to dissect uterine and postnatal maternal effects in NMRI offspring. Uterine factors changed the baseline ASR of the offspring in direction of the recipient mother strain. Surprisingly, postnatal maternal effects on the ASR were contrary to the behavior of the rearing mother. In conclusion, both genetic and prenatal/postnatal maternal factors persistently influenced the ASR of the offspring, whereas the fear-sensitized ASR was mainly influenced by genetic factors. Our study shows that uterine and postnatal maternal influences deserve more attention when determining the phenotype of genetically engineered mice at least in the first generation following embryo transfer.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics