Ethical considerations aside, do the animal models that are currently used in neuroscience research truly reflect the human physiological or pathological events that they are intended to mimic? How can such models be improved and help to develop better strategies to protect the vulnerable and combat disease?

The usefulness of animal models of complex conditions, such as pain, has been questioned because the translation of findings from these models to the clinic has so far been limited. In the Review on page 283, Jeffrey Mogil outlines current behavioural animal models of pain, discusses their validity by reflecting on their limitations and the behavioural complexity of pain, and outlines strategies for selecting appropriate subjects, assays and measures in order to develop improved models.

Animal models are also used to study the effects of prenatal drug exposure on neural development. In a Science and Society article on page 303, Levitt and colleagues consider findings in animal models and humans for a selection of drugs and show that current perceptions of the relative dangers to the fetus of illegal versus legal drugs may not be accurate. With this in mind, they call for a closer working relationship between scientists, policy makers and the media to inform the public about the consequences of illegal and legal drug use on fetal brain development and to shape policy decisions.

Assessing existing animal models on a regular basis and improving their validity will equip scientists with better tools to study disorders. Understanding pathophysiological patterns will in turn lead to improved treatment strategies, to a better public understanding of specific disorders and potentially to a call for a reform of policies.