The Wistar Kyoto Rat: A Model of Depression Traits

Eva E. Redei*, Mallory E. Udell, Leah C. Solberg Woods, Hao Chen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


There is an ongoing debate about the value of animal research in psychiatry with valid lines of reasoning stating the limits of individual animal models compared to human psychiatric illnesses. Human depression is not a homogenous disorder; therefore, one cannot expect a single animal model to reflect depression heterogeneity. This limited review presents arguments that the Wistar Kyoto (WKY) rats show intrinsic depression traits. The phenotypes of WKY do not completely mirror those of human depression but clearly indicate characteristics that are common with it. WKYs present des-pair-like behavior, passive coping with stress, comorbid anxiety, and enhanced drug use compared to other routinely used inbred or outbred strains of rats. The commonly used tests identifying these phe-notypes reflect exploratory, escape-oriented, and withdrawal-like behaviors. The WKYs consistently choose withdrawal or avoidance in novel environments and freezing behaviors in response to a challenge in these tests. The physiological response to a stressful environment is exaggerated in WKYs. Selective breeding generated two WKY substrains that are nearly isogenic but show clear behavioral differences, including that of depression-like behavior. WKY and its substrains may share characteristics of subgroups of depressed individuals with social withdrawal, low energy, weight loss, sleep dis-turbances, and specific cognitive dysfunction. The genomes of the WKY and WKY substrains contain variations that impact the function of many genes identified in recent human genetic studies of depres-sion. Thus, these strains of rats share characteristics of human depression at both phenotypic and genetic levels, making them a model of depression traits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1884-1905
Number of pages22
JournalCurrent neuropharmacology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2023


  • WKY
  • WMI
  • depression genes
  • forced swim test
  • genetic variants
  • passive coping
  • quantitative trait loci

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Pharmacology


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