Reliability of the chronic mild stress model of depression: A user survey
The chronic mild stress (CMS) model of depression is considered by many to be the animal model of depression that has the greatest validity and translational potential, but it has often been criticized for a perceived lack of reliability. The aims of this study were to establish the extent to which the procedure is reproducible, and to identify experimental variables relevant to its reliability. Because failures to replicate frequently remain unpublished, a survey methodology was used. A questionnaire was circulated to 170 labs identified from a PubMed search as having published a CMS study in the years 2010 or 2015 (with no selection in respect of the results reported). Responses were returned by 71 (42%) of the recipients, followed by further correspondence with some of them. Most of the respondents (n = 53: 75%) reported that the CMS procedure worked reliably in their hands. Of the others, 15 (21%) reported that the procedure was usually reliable, but not always (n = 9: 13%) or not for all measures (n = 6: 8%). Only three respondents (4%) reported being unable to reproduce the characteristic effects, two of whom may be using an insufficient duration of CMS exposure. A series of analyses compared the 75% of 'reliable' labs with the 25% of 'less reliable' labs on a range of experimenter, subject, stress and outcome variables. Few if any significant differences between these two samples were identified, possibly because of the small size and diversity of the 'less reliable' sample. Two other limitations of the study include the (unavoidable) omission of labs that may have worked with the model but not published their data, and the use of ad hoc measures to compare the severity of different stress regimes. The results are discussed in relation to relevant published observations. It is concluded that CMS is in fact a rather robust model, but the factors that result in a less effective implementation in a minority of laboratories remain to be firmly established.
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