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Assessing nest building in mice

Abstract

For small rodents, nests are important in heat conservation as well as reproduction and shelter. Nesting is easily measured in the home cages of mice, particularly with the advent of pressed cotton materials. The mice first shred the tightly packed material, then arrange it into a nest. Published studies have often used materials such as hay, twine or tissues, sometimes preshredded, and have assigned scores of the quality of the resulting nest with rather rudimentary rating scales; e.g., 0, no nest; 1, flat nest; 2, nest covering the mouse. The protocol described here uses pressed cotton squares and a definitive 5-point nest-rating scale. Any unshredded material left after a bout of nesting can also be weighed, providing a semi-independent objective assay of nesting ability. Nesting has been shown to be sensitive to brain lesions, pharmacological agents and genetic mutations. This is a simple, cheap and easily done test that, along with other tests of species-typical behavior, is a sensitive assay for identifying previously unknown behavioral phenotypes. The test needs to be done overnight, but it should take no more than 5 minutes to set up plus 1 minute to assess one nest and weigh the untorn residue.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by grant GR065438MA from the Wellcome Trust to the Oxford OXION group.

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Correspondence to Robert MJ Deacon.

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The author declares no competing financial interests.

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Figure 1: Assigning scores to nests.

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