The purpose of the Sociability chamber is to test a rodent’s social approach behavior, and subsequently conditions that can affect sociability, such as autism, schizophrenia, and other psychiatric disorders.
When a mouse is placed in the middle of the chamber, it will naturally engage in social behavior and explore new objects, which this test takes advantage of.
The Sociability Chamber consists of three chambers, of which the animal is placed in the middle of the three and is allowed to move freely between the chambers. In the leftmost and rightmost chambers, there is a wire cage that another animal is placed in, we’ll call them strangers. The cage allows for the test animal to meet the stranger while preventing aggression.
How to Use the Sociability Chamber
The test mouse has been placed in the middle chamber. Now, we can measure the amount of time it spends in direct contact with the stranger, the number of direct interactions with the stranger, the time spent in the chamber with the stranger vs. time spent in the other chambers without the stranger, or the number of transitions between the chambers. All of these measures are different ways that can be used to measure “sociability.”
There are two stages of this test: the social affiliation session and the social novelty preference. Let’s go through each stage.
The social affiliation session begins with a stranger mouse placed in one of the wired cages (whether it’s placed in the left or right can be randomized or altered). When the test mouse is placed in the middle cage, it will typically spend more time interacting with the stranger than not. Along these lines, it will also typically spend more time in the chamber with the stranger than in the empty chamber.
The social novelty preference stage uses two strangers, one in each wire cage in the left and right chambers. Now, when the test mouse is placed in the middle chamber, it will spend more time interacting with the new stranger and spend less time with the stranger it has already met (he’s less of a stranger now). Similarly, the mouse will spend more time in the chamber with the new stranger and less time in the chamber with the old stranger.
What is the Sociability Chamber Used For?
As I mentioned earlier, this test can be a great way to test impairments in social behaviors, such as with certain psychiatric disorders. Following suit, it is also a great way to test potential treatments for these impairments.
For example, Chadman (2011) tested the effects of two autism treatments, Risperidone and Fluoxetine. Risperidone is an approved drug for treating the irritability and self-injurious behaviors for autism patients. Fluoxetine was being tested for the treatment of the repetitive behaviors and anxiety presented by autism patients. This experiment used a mouse model of autism and the Sociability Chamber, as well as the Elevated Plus Maze. Chadman found that while Fluoxetine increased sociability (time spent with the stranger mouse) in the Sociability Chamber, it did not affect anxiety-like behaviors tested by the Elevated Plus Maze. It was also found that Risperidone did not affect sociability or anxiety-like behaviors. The results of this experiment, if verified by other studies, could affect the medication that autism patients receive.
Overall, the Sociability Chamber is a simple yet effective test for sociability, but one would need to be careful in controlling for any possible confounding variables. For more Maze Basics articles, such as the Elevated Plus Maze, check out our maze basics page.
Chadman K (2011). Fluoxetine but not risperidone increases sociability in the BTBR mouse model of autism. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 97(3): 586-594.