Forced Swim Test



February 15, 2021

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  • Factsheet on the forced swim test available here: The forced swim test is a behavioural test which assesses the efficacy of potential antidepressant treatments. It involves putting a rat or mouse into a small tank of water, from which it cannot escape. The water is heated to between 25 and 30 degrees Centigrade to ensure that the animals do not develop hypothermia, which would affect their welfare and the findings from the test. After a few minutes of swimming around and trying to climb out of the tank, the animal stops trying to escape and instead floats in the water, moving occasionally to keep floating. The test typically lasts around five to six minutes, after which the animal is lifted out. It is not left in the water until the point of exhaustion. Rats and mice are naturally buoyant but if at any point during the test the animal were to look as though it were struggling to stay afloat, it would be taken out of the water. The length of time that the animal was active and then floating (‘immobile’) in the water is recorded. Additional behaviours including swimming and climbing may also be recorded. Antidepressants make stressed animals move more than they would if they had not been given an antidepressant, so if the animal has been given an antidepressant treatment prior to the test it will spend more time swimming and less time floating. Animals that have not been given an antidepressant treatment (known as ‘controls’) or animals given a treatment that does not have antidepressant properties will spend less time swimming and more time floating. By comparing the swimming and floating times of the dosed animals and the control animals, researchers can tell whether or not a potential new antidepressant is likely to be an effective treatment in depressed patients. If a potential treatment works in these animals, it can then go on to further stages of testing.

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