• Aversive conditioning;
  • escape/avoidance;
  • Fragile X syndrome

Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most common form of inherited mental retardation (MR). FXS is typically caused by a mutation of the Fmr1 gene (Verkerk et al. 1991, Cell 65, 905–914). To better understand the role of Fmr1 and its gene product fragile X mental-retardation protein (FMRP) in central nervous system function, researchers have turned to the use of animal model systems to generate an Fmr1 knockout (KO) mouse that is deficient in FMRP (Bakker et al. 1994, Cell 78, 23–33). Unfortunately, a number of studies have found no consistent, robust learning and memory impairment in the Fmr1 KO mice. We conducted a study to assess the performance of Fmr1 KO and wildtype (WT) animals in a leverpress escape/avoidance paradigm. Fmr1 KO and WT littermates were studied in four daily 1-h sessions. The Fmr1 KO mice performed fewer avoidance and total responses than WT mice. The KO animals were not simply deficient in avoidance, but a within-factor anova revealed that they did not acquire the leverpress response to any appreciable degree. Observation during the sessions indicated that the Fmr1 KO animals clearly responded to the shock, eliminating an obvious sensory explanation for the deficit. The fact that other studies have found that the KO mice displayed increased exploratory and locomotor activity compared with WT controls argues against a motoric deficit. Future studies will attempt to delineate the nature of the behavioral deficit as well as attempt to rescue the response with glutamatergic or dopaminergic agents.