Protocol | Published:

Burrowing in rodents: a sensitive method for detecting behavioral dysfunction

Abstract

Virtually all rodents display burrowing behavior, yet measurement of this behavior has not yet been standardized or formalized. Previously, parameters such as the latency to burrow and the complexity of the burrow systems in substrate-filled boxes in the laboratory or naturalistic outdoor environments have been assessed. We describe here a simple protocol that can quantitatively measure burrowing in laboratory rodents, using a simple apparatus that can be placed in the home cage. The test is very cheap to run and requires minimal experimenter training, yet seems sensitive to a variety of treatments, such as the early stages of prion disease in mice, mouse strain differences, lesions of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex in mice, also effects of lipopolysaccharide and IL-1β in rats. Other species such as hamsters, gerbils and Egyptian spiny mice also burrow in this apparatus, and with suitable size modification probably almost any burrowing animal could be tested in it. The simplicity, sensitivity and robustness of burrowing make it ideal for assessing genetically modified animals, which in most cases would be mice. The test is run from late afternoon until the next morning, but only two measurements need to be taken.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1

    Dudek, B.C., Adams, N., Boice, R. & Abbott, M.E. Genetic influences on digging behaviours in mice (Mus musculus) in laboratory and seminatural settings. J. Comp. Psychol. 97, 249–259 (1983).

  2. 2

    Deacon, R.M.J., Raley, J.M., Perry, V.H. & Rawlins, J.N.P. Burrowing into prion disease. Neuroreport 12, 2053–2057 (2001).

  3. 3

    Deacon, R.M.J. Digging and marble burying in mice: simple methods for in vivo identification of biological impacts. Nature Protocols, DOI: 10.1038/nprot.2006.20

  4. 4

    Pinel, J.P.J. & Treit, D. Burying as a defensive response in rats. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 92, 708–712 (1978).

  5. 5

    Guenther, K., Deacon, R.M.J., Perry, V.H. & Rawlins, J.N.P. Early behavioural changes in scrapie-affected mice and the influence of dapsone. Eur. J. Neurosci., 14, 401–409 (2001).

  6. 6

    Contet, C., Rawlins, J.N.P. & Deacon, R.M.J. A comparison of 129S2/SvHsd and C57BL/6JOlaHsd mice on a test battery assessing sensorimotor, affective and cognitive behaviours: implications for the study of genetically modified mice. Behav. Brain Res. 124, 33–46 (2001).

  7. 7

    Deacon, R.M.J., Croucher. A. & Rawlins, J.N.P. Hippocampal cytotoxic lesion effects on species-typical behaviors in mice. Behav. Brain Res. 132, 203–213 (2002).

  8. 8

    Deacon R.M.J., Penny, C. & Rawlins, J.N.P. Effects of medial prefrontal cortex cytotoxic lesions in mice. Behav. Brain Res. 139, 139–155 (2003).

  9. 9

    Deacon R.M.J., Reisel, D., Perry, V.H. & Rawlins, J.N.P. Hippocampal scrapie infection impairs operant DRL performance in mice. Behav. Brain Res. 157, 99–105 (2005).

  10. 10

    Shinomiya, K., Fujii, Y., Sugimoto, Y., Azuma, N., Tokunaga, S., Kitazumi, K. & Kamei, C. Effect of paroxetine on marble-burying behavior in mice. Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol. 10, 685–687 (2005).

Download references

Acknowledgements

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

Author information

Competing interests

The author declares no competing financial interests.

Correspondence to Robert M J Deacon.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Video 1

    A hooded Lister rat burrowing. The setup, with a transparent tube and colored granite chips, was specifically for demonstration purposes. Film courtesy of D. Anthony and S. Campbell, Dept. of Pharmacology, University of Oxford. (MOV 35742 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Further reading

Figure 1: Schematic diagram and photograph of a burrow.

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.