Rats exposed to traumatic stress bury unfamiliar objects - A novel measure of hyper-vigilance in PTSD models?

Eva Mikics, Johanna Baranyi, Jozsef Haller

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44 Citations (Scopus)


Electric shocks lead to lasting behavioral deficits in rodents, and as such are often used to model post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the laboratory. Here we show that a single exposure of rats to 3 mA-strong shocks results in a marked social avoidance that lasts at least 28 days; moreover, the response intensifies over time. In an attempt to study the impact of cue reminders on the behavior of shocked rats, we administered shocks in the presence of a highly conspicuous, 10 cm-large object. This object was introduced into the home cage of rats 28 days after shock exposure. Shocked rats manipulated the object considerably less than controls. More importantly, however, the object was buried by shocked rats. This behavior was virtually absent in controls. The response strongly depended on the intensity of shocks, and was robust. Rats shocked with 3 mA currents spent 40% of time burying the object, which was often hardly visible at the end of the 5 min test. Subsequent experiments demonstrated that the response was not cue-specific as unfamiliar objects were also buried. Rats are well known to bury dangerous objects; the shock-prod burying test of anxiety is based on this response. Behavioral similarities with this test and the differences from the marble-burying behavior of mice suggest that traumatized rats bury unfamiliar objects in defense, and the response can be interpreted as a sign of hyper-vigilance. We further suggest that object burying can be used as a sign of hyper-vigilance in models of PTSD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-348
Number of pages8
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 9 2008



  • Defensive burying
  • Electric shock
  • PTSD
  • Rat
  • Social avoidance
  • Trauma
  • Vigilance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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