Taming anxiety in laboratory mice

Journal name:
Nature Methods
Volume:
7,
Pages:
825–826
Year published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/nmeth.1500
Received
Accepted
Published online

Routine laboratory animal handling has profound effects on their anxiety and stress responses, but little is known about the impact of handling method. We found that picking up mice by the tail induced aversion and high anxiety, whereas use of tunnels or open hand led to voluntary approach, low anxiety and acceptance of physical restraint. Using the latter methods, one can minimize a widespread source of anxiety in laboratory mice.

At a glance

Figures

  1. Effect of handling method on voluntary interaction with the handler and behavior in an elevated plus maze, tested during the dark phase of the diurnal cycle.
    Figure 1: Effect of handling method on voluntary interaction with the handler and behavior in an elevated plus maze, tested during the dark phase of the diurnal cycle.

    (a) Voluntary interaction in the ninth handling session immediately after handling by the tail, home cage tunnel or cupped on open hands among male and female BALB/c (left), C57BL/6 (middle) and ICR(CD-1) (right) mice. Error bars, s.e.m., n = 4 cages. (b) Mean frequency of protected stretched attend postures during a 5-min elevated plus maze test after nine handling sessions. Error bars, s.e.m., n = 8 mice. The overall effect of handling method is shown for parametric (F) or nonparametric (χ2) ANOVAs; planned contrasts to tail method: *P < 0.05, **P < 0.01, ***P < 0.005.

  2. Voluntary interaction with the handler after restraint by the scruff for mice experienced with different handling methods.
    Figure 2: Voluntary interaction with the handler after restraint by the scruff for mice experienced with different handling methods.

    After 11 previous handling sessions by tail, home cage tunnel or cupping on the open hand during the dark period, each mouse was picked up by its familiar method, restrained by the scruff and held on its back in the palm of the hand for 10 s (session 12). Voluntary interaction was assessed before and after scruff handling (session 12) and before and after normal handling the following day (session 13). Error bars, s.e.m., n = 8 cages (4 for each sex) for BALB/c (left), C57BL/6 (middle) and ICR(CD-1) (right) mice. The overall effect of handling method is shown for repeated measure ANOVAs.

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Author information

Affiliations

  1. Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution Group, Institute of Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool, Leahurst Campus, Neston, UK.

    • Jane L Hurst &
    • Rebecca S West

Contributions

J.L.H. gained the funding and designed the project with contributions from R.S.W.; J.L.H. and R.S.W. collected data; and J.L.H. supervised all aspects of the work, analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript.

Competing financial interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. Supplementary Text and Figures (2M)

    Supplementary Figures 1–6 and Supplementary Tables 1–5

Movies

  1. Supplementary Movie 1 (3M)

    Example of the tail handling method.

  2. Supplementary Movie 2 (4M)

    Example of the tunnel handling method.

  3. Supplementary Movie 3 (5M)

    Example of the cup handling method on day 1 and on subsequent days.

  4. Supplementary Movie 4 (5M)

    Voluntary interaction after tail handling. Typical responses of BALB/c, C57BL/6 and ICR(CD-1) mice after handling in the ninth session.

  5. Supplementary Movie 5 (7M)

    Voluntary interaction after tunnel handling. Typical responses of BALB/c, C57BL/6 and ICR(CD-1) mice after handling in the ninth session.

  6. Supplementary Movie 6 (7M)

    Voluntary interaction after cup handling. Typical responses of BALB/c, C57BL/6 and ICR(CD-1) mice after handling in the ninth session.

  7. Supplementary Movie 7 (5M)

    Examples of first transfer from tunnel to hand using the combined method for C57BL/6 mice.

  8. Supplementary Movie 8 (5M)

    Voluntary interaction after combined tunnel to cup handling. Typical responses of C57BL/6 mice after direct cup handling in the ninth session.

Additional data