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National Research Council (US) Institute for Laboratory Animal Research. Guidance for the Description of Animal Research in Scientific Publications. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011.

Cover of Guidance for the Description of Animal Research in Scientific Publications

Guidance for the Description of Animal Research in Scientific Publications.

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2Defining an Optimal Description of an Animal Study

The definition of each journal’s policy will entail editors’ determination of the specific information to be included in descriptions of materials and methods, taking into account the field of endeavor, the intended audience of the publication, the type of study, the species and nature of the animal model, and the aims and objectives of the particular study being described.

Complementing the criteria and checklists available, and in the absence of best practice standards, the following paragraphs present factors for journal editors to consider in determining their policy and for authors and reviewers to bear in mind in their approach to manuscript preparation and review.

2.1. How Much Detail Is Necessary?

In descriptions of the materials and methods used in studies with animals, authors frequently simply state that the work was approved by the institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) and/or conducted in an accredited facility4 without providing details of the conditions of the animal environment. IACUC approval and animal facility accreditation are general indications of program quality but in no way obviate the need for proper description of the test system and conditions of an experiment.

As an example, multiple characteristics of a single environmental factor in an animal facility— lighting—affect behavioral and physiological processes and can thus influence a research endpoint (Bellhorn 1980; Dauchy et al. 2011). The description should therefore consider including type of lighting (natural vs. artificial), method of provision (fluorescent vs. LED), intensity, spectral qualities, duration, timing of light:dark cycles, control of method of onset, and methods used in reversal of circadian cycles. The amount of detail will depend on the type of study, the type of endpoint, and how light might affect the research—a study of phototoxic retinopathy in albino rodents or a breeding study in cats might require a very different description of lighting than the study of a surgical procedure in dogs.

This report elucidates specific factors to consider when determining the details necessary for descriptions of research animal environment and husbandry, with selected references that provide information about species and types of models as well as factors known to induce variability in research outcomes. It is important to bear in mind that at the time of reporting the impacts of some factors may not be known; it is therefore better to err on the side of providing more rather than less detail.

2.2. A Values-Based Approach

The following values-based approach is provided to assist editors, reviewers, and investigators in assessing descriptions of the research animal and its care and use. Ideally, the information will be detailed enough to:

  1. enable the reader to effectively interpret and evaluate the work;
  2. ensure that others can replicate the experiments described; and
  3. clearly convey refinement and reduction measures both to ensure transparency about effects on animals and to prevent unnecessary animal use and/or harm in efforts to replicate studies.

These three points are important and fall directly within the role and responsibilities of journals and editors in supporting reproducibility as a means to ensure both effective science and ethical animal use. The committee therefore strongly encourages journals to provide clear, customized guidance for their authors and reviewers about the information to be included in descriptions of the research animal, the research animal environment, and animal care and use methods.



Animal facilities are accredited internationally by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) International and in accordance with European Union and national directives and legislation.

Copyright © 2011, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK84211


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