Melbourne, Oct 16 : When it comes to anxiety, female lab mice can respond quite differently than males, finds a new study from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, something which could have important implications in the field of scientific research.
The new findings can change the way animal models are used for scientific research purposes, suggesting that both sexes should be used in lab tests.
"At the moment male mice are used to apply findings to both male and female humans. That's definitely not the ideal situation," ABC Online quoted neuroscientist Dr Tim Karl of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, as saying.
During the study, the research team led by Karl studied the impact of a neurotransmitter known as neuropeptide Y (NPY), which helps lower anxiety levels as well as influences aggression and appetite.
Previous studies involving male mice, which are the standard laboratory animal, genetically modified to lack the gene for NPY showed that they are more prone to anxiety than normal mice.
However, the new study showed that female mice were less prone to anxiety male mice.
The findings that female mice without the NPY gene are less prone to anxiety than males appears to go against what is known in humans, where females are more likely to develop anxiety disorders.
"For the males, knocking out the NPY gene has a much bigger effect than if you knock it out in female mice," he said.
Karl said that the findings add to a growing body of evidence that both sexes should be used in lab tests.
It may be possible to use NPY to treat anxiety in humans, but to date 80-90% of NPY research has been done in male mice.
The researchers suggest that further care will be needed in applying the mouse model to humans.