The brain is built with hemispheric asymmetries in structure and function to enable fast neuronal processing. In neuroimaging studies, several mental disorders have been associated with altered or attenuated hemispheric asymmetries. However, the exact mechanism linking asymmetries and disorders is not known. Here, studies in animal models of mental disorders render important insights into the etiology and neuronal alterations associated with both disorders and atypical asymmetry. In this review, the current literature of animal studies in rats and mice focusing on anxiety and fear, anhedonia and despair, addiction or substance misuse, neurodegenerative disorders as well as stress exposure, and atypical hemispheric asymmetries is summarized. Results indicate overall increased right-hemispheric neuronal activity and a left-sided behavioral bias associated with symptoms of anxiety, fear, anhedonia, behavioral despair as well as stress exposure. Addiction behavior is associated with right-sided bias and transgenic models of Alzheimer’s disease indicate an asymmetrical accumulation of fibrillar plaques. Most studies focused on changes in the bilateral amygdala and frontal cortex. Across studies, two crucial factors influencing atypical asymmetries arose independently of the disorder modeled: sex and developmental age. In conclusion, animal models of mental disorders demonstrate atypical hemispheric asymmetries similar to findings in patients. Particularly, increased left-sided behavior and greater right-hemispheric activity were found across models applying stress-based paradigms. However, sex- and age-dependent effects on atypical hemispheric asymmetries are present that require further investigation. Animal models enable the analysis of hemispheric changes on the molecular level which may be most effective to detect early alterations.
© 2023. The Author(s).