A Novel Neighbor Housing Environment Enhances Social Interaction and Rescues Cognitive Deficits from Social Isolation in Adolescence.
ABSTRACT: Adolescence is characterized by high levels of playful social interaction, cognitive development, and increased risk-taking behavior. Juvenile exposure to social isolation or social stress can reduce myelin content in the frontal cortex, alter neuronal excitability, and disrupt hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis function. As compared to group housed animals, social isolation increases anxiety-like phenotypes and reduces social and cognitive performance in adulthood. We designed a neighbor housing environment to alleviate issues related to social isolation that still allowed individual homecages. Neighbor housing consists of four standard mouse cages fused together with semi-permeable ports that allow visual, olfactory, and limited social contact between mice. Adolescent C57BL/6J males and females were group housed (4/cage), single housed (1/cage), or neighbor housed (4/complex). As adults, mice were tested for social, anxiety-like, and cognitive behaviors. Living in this neighbor environment reduced anxiety-like behavior in the social interaction task and in the light-dark task. It also rescued cognitive deficits from single housing in the novel object recognition task. These data suggest that neighbor housing may partially ameliorate the social anxiety and cognitive deficits induced by social isolation. These neighbor cage environments may serve as a conduit by which researchers can house mice in individual cages while still enabling limited social interactions to better model typical adolescent development.
Project description:Environmental enrichment of laboratory animals influences brain plasticity, stimulates neurogenesis, increases neurotrophic factor expression, and protects against the effects of brain insult. However, these positive effects are not constantly observed, probably because standardized procedures of environmental enrichment are lacking. Therefore, we engineered an enriched cage (the Marlau™ cage), which offers: (1) minimally stressful social interactions; (2) increased voluntary exercise; (3) multiple entertaining activities; (4) cognitive stimulation (maze exploration), and (5) novelty (maze configuration changed three times a week). The maze, which separates food pellet and water bottle compartments, guarantees cognitive stimulation for all animals. Compared to rats raised in groups in conventional cages, rats housed in Marlau™ cages exhibited increased cortical thickness, hippocampal neurogenesis and hippocampal levels of transcripts encoding various genes involved in tissue plasticity and remodeling. In addition, rats housed in Marlau™ cages exhibited better performances in learning and memory, decreased anxiety-associated behaviors, and better recovery of basal plasma corticosterone level after acute restraint stress. Marlau™ cages also insure inter-experiment reproducibility in spatial learning and brain gene expression assays. Finally, housing rats in Marlau™ cages after severe status epilepticus at weaning prevents the cognitive impairment observed in rats subjected to the same insult and then housed in conventional cages. By providing a standardized enriched environment for rodents during housing, the Marlau™ cage should facilitate the uniformity of environmental enrichment across laboratories.
Project description:Genetic (G) and environmental (E) manipulations are known to alter behavioural outcomes in rodents, however many animal models of neuropsychiatric disorders only use a restricted selection of strain and housing conditions. The aim of this study was to examine GxE interactions comparing two outbred rat strains, which were housed in either standard or enriched cages. The strains selected were the albino Sprague-Dawley rat, commonly used for animal models, and the other was the pigmented Long Evans rat, which is frequently used in cognitive studies. Rats were assessed using a comprehensive behavioural test battery and included well-established tests frequently employed to examine animal models of neuropsychiatric diseases, measuring aspects of anxiety, exploration, sensorimotor gating and cognition. Selective strain and housing effects were observed on a number of tests. These included increased locomotion and reduced pre-pulse inhibition in Long Evans rats compared to Sprague Dawley rats; and rats housed in enriched cages had reduced anxiety-like behaviour compared to standard housed rats. Long Evans rats required fewer sessions than Sprague Dawley rats to learn operant tasks, including a signal detection task and reversal learning. Furthermore, Long Evans rats housed in enriched cages acquired simple operant tasks faster than standard housed Long Evans rats. Cognitive phenotypes in animal models of neuropsychiatric disorders would benefit from using strain and housing conditions where there is greater potential for both enhancement and deficits in performance.
Project description:Rodent studies have demonstrated that adolescent social isolation results in many behavioral perturbations, including increases in anxiety-like behaviors. Socially isolated (SI) rats have also been shown to self-administer greater amounts ethanol (EtOH) in some, but not all, studies. Here, we tested whether juvenile social isolation increases EtOH drinking using an intermittent procedure that engenders relatively high intake in normally reared animals. We also compared the behavioral phenotype of rats reared under social isolation or group-housed conditions with adult rats housed under conditions commonly used in EtOH-drinking studies.Male Long Evans rats were procured immediately postweaning and were group housed for 1 week. Subjects were then randomly divided into 2 groups: SI rats, housed individually for 6 weeks and group-housed (GH) rats (4/cage). A third group was procured as young adults and was housed individually upon arrival for 1 week (standard housing condition). Rats were then tested in a plus-maze and novelty assay, and then, all subjects were singly housed and EtOH drinking was assessed.SI rats displayed increased anxiety-like behaviors on the plus-maze, a greater locomotor response to a novel environment, and increased EtOH intake, relative to GH rats. Age-matched standard housed (STD) rats exhibited an anxiety-like behavioral profile on the plus-maze that was similar to SI, and not GH rats, and also drank EtOH at levels comparable with SI subjects. In addition, anxiety-like behavior on the plus-maze correlated with intermittent EtOH intake in SI and GH rats.These data further support the validity of the rodent juvenile social isolation model for studies directed at elucidating behavioral and neurobiological mechanisms linking anxiety and EtOH drinking. These findings further suggest that housing conditions commonly employed in rodent drinking studies may recapitulate the anxiety-like and EtOH-drinking phenotype engendered by a juvenile social isolation procedure.
Project description:The effect of environmental enrichment (EE) on a variety of physiologic and disease processes has been studied in laboratory mice. During EE, a large group of mice are housed in larger cages than the standard cage and are given toys and equipment, enabling more social contact, and providing a greater surface area per mouse, and a more stimulating environment. Studies have been performed into the effect of EE on neurogenesis, brain injury, cognitive capacity, memory, learning, neuronal pathways, diseases such as Alzheimer's, anxiety, social defeat, emotionality, depression, drug addiction, alopecia, and stereotypies. In the cancer field, three papers have reported effects on mice injected with tumors and housed in enriched environments compared with those housed in standard conditions. One paper reported a significant decrease in tumor growth in mice in EE housing. We attempted to replicate this finding in our animal facility, because the implications of repeating this finding would have profound implications for how we house all our mice in our studies on cancer. We were unable to reproduce the results in the paper in which B16F10 subcutaneous tumors of mice housed in EE conditions were smaller than those of mice housed in standard conditions. The differences in results could have been due to the different growth rate of the B16F10 cultures from the different laboratories, the microbiota of the mice housed in the two animal facilities, variations in noise and handling between the two facilities, food composition, the chemical composition of the cages or the detergents used for cleaning, or a variety of other reasons. EE alone does not appear to consistently result in decreased tumor growth, but other factors would appear to be able to counteract or inhibit the effects of EE on cancer progression.
Project description:Anxiety disorders are influenced by both environmental and genetic factors. A well-known example for gene x environment interactions in psychiatry is the low activity (s) allelic variant of the serotonin transporter (5-HTT) promoter polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) that in the context of stress increases risk for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Previously, we observed robust anxiety-related phenotypes, such as an impairment in fear extinction, in 5-HTT knockout (5-HTT-/-) versus wild-type (5-HTT+/+) rats housed in open cages. Recently, housing conditions were changed from open cages to individually ventilated cages (IVC), which are associated with a high ventilation fold and noise. This switch in housing conditions prompted an unplanned 5-HTT gene x environment interaction study in our rats. The current study shows that lifetime stress by means of IVC cage housing abolished genotype differences in fear extinction between 5-HTT-/- and 5-HTT+/+ rats. Although this effect was not attributed specifically to either the 5-HTT+/+ or the 5-HTT-/- genotype, the findings are in agreement with the modulatory role of serotonin in the processing of environmental stimuli. Our findings also underline the possibility that housing conditions confound the interpretation of anxiety-related behaviours in rodents.
Project description:Injurious home-cage aggression (fighting) in mice affects both animal welfare and scientific validity. It is arguably the most common potentially preventable morbidity in mouse facilities. Existing literature on mouse aggression almost exclusively examines territorial aggression induced by introducing a stimulus mouse into the home-cage of a singly housed mouse (i.e. the resident/intruder test). However, fighting occurring in mice living together in long-term groups under standard laboratory housing conditions has barely been studied. We performed a point-prevalence epidemiological survey of fighting at a research institution with an approximate 60,000 cage census. A subset of cages was sampled over the course of a year and factors potentially influencing home-cage fighting were recorded. Fighting was almost exclusively seen in group-housed male mice. Approximately 14% of group-housed male cages were observed with fighting animals in brief behavioral observations, but only 14% of those cages with fighting had skin injuries observable from cage-side. Thus simple cage-side checks may be missing the majority of fighting mice. Housing system (the combination of cage ventilation and bedding type), genetic background, time of year, cage location on the rack, and rack orientation in the room were significant risk factors predicting fighting. Of these predictors, only bedding type is easily manipulated to mitigate fighting. Cage ventilation and rack orientation often cannot be changed in modern vivaria, as they are baked in by cookie-cutter architectural approaches to facility design. This study emphasizes the need to invest in assessing the welfare costs of new housing and husbandry systems before implementing them.
Project description:Early life context and stressful experiences are known to increase the risk of developing psychiatric disorders later in life, including disorders with deficits in the social domain. Our study aimed to investigate the influence of early life environment on social behavior in a well-controlled animal model. To this end we tested the effects of maternal deprivation (MD) on rat social play behavior in adolescence and social interaction in adulthood. Additionally, we provided a stimulating environment during adolescence (complex housing) as a potential intervention to diminish the effects of early life stress. Male and female Wistar rats were deprived from their mother for 24 h on postnatal day 3 (PND 3) or were left undisturbed. Complex housing started 5 days after weaning and consisted of housing 10 same-sex conspecifics in large, two-floor MarlauTM cages until the end of the study. Social play behavior in adolescence was tested under different conditions (3 h vs. 24 h social isolation prior to testing). Maternally deprived males - but not females - showed a longer latency to play and a decreased total amount of social play behavior, after a 24 h isolation period. In adulthood, social discrimination was impaired in deprived male and female rats in the three-chamber social approach task. Complex housing did not moderate the effects of MD, but in itself induced a strong behavioral phenotype. Both complex housed males and females hardly displayed any play behavior after a 3 h isolation period. However, after 24 h of isolation, these animals showed shorter latencies to engage in social play behavior. Only complex housed males truly showed more social play behavior here, while showing less social interest in adulthood. We conclude that MD has mild negative effects on social behavior in adolescence and adulthood, which are not counteracted by complex housing. Complex housing induces a specific phenotype associated with rapid habituation; a lack of social play after short isolation periods, while increasing play behavior after a prolonged period of isolation in adolescence, and less social interest, paired with intact social discrimination in adulthood. In both early life settings, males seem to be more influenced by the early life environment compared to females.
Project description:A tacit assumption in laboratory animal research is that animals housed within the same cage or pen are phenotypically more similar than animals from different cages or pens, due to their shared housing environment. This assumption drives experimental design, randomization schemes, and statistical analysis plans, while neglecting social context. Here, we examined whether a domain of social context-social dominance-accounted for more phenotypic variation in mice than cage-identity. First, we determined that cages of mice could be categorized into one of three dominance hierarchies with varying degrees of dominance behavior between cage-mates, and low levels of agonistic behavior in the home-cage. Most groups formed dynamic hierarchies with unclear ranks, contrasting with recent accounts of stable transitive hierarchies in groups of mice. Next, we measured some phenotypic traits, and found that social dominance (i.e. dominance hierarchy type and degree of dominance behavior) consistently accounted for some phenotypic variation in all outcome measures, while cage-identity accounted for phenotypic variation in some measures but virtually no variation in others. These findings highlight the importance of considering biologically relevant factors, such as social dominance, in experimental designs and statistical plans.
Project description:Mice are social animals hence group-housing of mice is preferred over individual housing. However, aggression in group-housed male mice under laboratory housing conditions is a well-known problem leading to serious health issues, including injury or death. Therefore, group-housed mice are frequently separated for welfare reasons. In this study, we investigated the effect of 3 different handling methods (tail, forceps, tube) in 2 different housing conditions (single vs. group) on the variance of aggression-associated parameters in male C57BL/6NCrl mice over 8 weeks. Blood glucose concentration, body weight, body temperature, plus number and severity of bite wounds and barbering intensity in group-housed mice were recorded. An assessment of nest complexity was also performed weekly. Feces were collected in week 3 and 7 for analysis of corticosterone metabolites. We also monitored the level of aggression by recording the behavior of group-housed animals after weekly cage cleaning. An open field test followed by a social novel object test, a light/dark box test, a hotplate and a resident-intruder test were performed at the end of the 8-week handling period. Post-mortem, we assessed organ weights. We found that forceps-handled mice, independent of the housing condition, had significantly higher levels of stress-induced-hyperthermia and enhanced aggression after cage cleaning, and they performed worse in the nest complexity test. In addition, handling male mice by the tail seems to be most effective to reduce aggressiveness after transferring animals into new cages, thereby representing an appropriate refinement.
Project description:Laboratory mice (Mus musculus) are typically housed in simple cages consisting of one open space. These standard cages may thwart mouse ability to segregate resting areas from areas where they eliminate, a behaviour that is prevalent across the animal kingdom. No scientific work has directly tested whether mice engage in such segregation behaviour, or whether the ability to do so may have welfare consequences. Here we show that mice, whether housed in standard cages or a complex housing system consisting of three interconnected standard cages, kept nesting and elimination sites highly segregated, with nest and urine co-occurring in the same location only 2% of the time. However, mice in the complex system established these clean and dirty sites in separate cages instead of separate locations within one cage, and carried bedding materials (cellulose pellets) from their nesting cages to their latrine cage. Moreover, mice in the complex system displayed more behaviours associated with positive welfare and were less disturbed by weekly husbandry procedures. We conclude that mice find waste products aversive, and that housing mice in a way that facilitates spatial segregation provides a simple way of allowing the expression of natural behaviours and improving welfare.