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Sci Rep. 2017 Mar 21;7:44999. doi: 10.1038/srep44999.

Optimising reliability of mouse performance in behavioural testing: the major role of non-aversive handling.

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Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution Group, Institute of Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool, Leahurst Campus, Neston CH64 7TE, UK.


Handling laboratory animals during test procedures is an important source of stress that may impair reliability of test responses. Picking up mice by the tail is aversive, stimulating stress and anxiety. Responses among anxious animals can be confounded further by neophobia towards novel test environments and avoidance of test stimuli in open areas. However, handling stress can be reduced substantially by using a handling tunnel, or cupping mice without restraint on the open hand. Here we establish whether non-aversive handling, brief prior familiarisation with the test arena and alternative stimulus placement could significantly improve performance of mice in behavioural tests. We use a simple habituation-dishabituation paradigm in which animals must discriminate between two urine stimuli in successive trials, a task that mice can easily perform. Tail handled mice showed little willingness to explore and investigate test stimuli, leading to poor test performance that was only slightly improved by prior familiarisation. By contrast, those handled by tunnel explored readily and showed robust responses to test stimuli regardless of prior familiarisation or stimulus location, though responses were more variable for cup handling. Our study shows that non-aversive tunnel handling can substantially improve mouse performance in behavioural tests compared to traditional tail handling.

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