Can simple enrichments enhance caged mink welfare? Pilot data from 756 sub-adults spanning three colour-types (strains) identified potentially practical enrichments, and suggested beneficial effects on temperament and fur-chewing. Our main experiment started with 2032 Black mink on three farms: from each of 508 families, one juvenile male-female pair was enriched (E) with two balls and a hanging plastic chain or length of hose, while a second pair was left as a non-enriched (NE) control. At 8 months, more than half the subjects were killed for pelts, and 302 new females were recruited (half enriched: ‘late E’). Several signs of improved welfare or productivity emerged. Access to enrichment increased play in juveniles. E mink were calmer (less aggressive in temperament tests; quieter when handled; less fearful, if male), and less likely to fur-chew, although other stereotypic behaviours were not reduced. On one farm, E females had lower cortisol (inferred from faecal metabolites). E males tended to copulate for longer. E females also weaned more offspring: about 10% more juveniles per E female, primarily caused by reduced rates of barrenness (‘late E’ females also giving birth to bigger litters on one farm), effects that our data cautiously suggest were partly mediated by reduced inactivity and changes in temperament. Pelt quality seemed unaffected, but E animals had cleaner cages. In a subsidiary side-study using 368 mink of a second colour-type (‘Demis’), similar temperament effects emerged, and while E did not reduce fur-chewing or improve reproductive success in this colour-type, E animals were judged to have better pelts. Overall, simple enrichments were thus beneficial. These findings should encourage welfare improvements on fur farms (which house 60-70 million mink p.a.) and in breeding centres where endangered mustelids (e.g. black-footed ferrets) often reproduce poorly. They should also stimulate future research into more effective practical enrichments.
Although the musculoskeletal system is known to be sensitive to changes in its mechanical environment, the relationship between functional adaptation and below-normal mechanical stimuli is not well defined. We investigated bone and muscle adaptation to a range of reduced loading using the partial weight suspension (PWS) system, in which a two-point harness is used to offload a tunable amount of body weight while maintaining quadrupedal locomotion. Skeletally mature female C57Bl/6 mice were exposed to partial weight bearing at 20%, 40%, 70%, or 100% of body weight for 21 days. A hindlimb unloaded (HLU) group was included for comparison in addition to age-matched controls in normal housing. Gait kinematics was measured across the full range of weight bearing, and some minor alterations in gait from PWS were identified. With PWS, bone and muscle changes were generally proportional to the degree of unloading. Specifically, total body and hindlimb bone mineral density, calf muscle mass, trabecular bone volume of the distal femur, and cortical area of the femur midshaft were all linearly related to the degree of unloading. Even a load reduction to 70% of normal weight bearing was associated with significant bone deterioration and muscle atrophy. Weight bearing at 20% did not lead to better bone outcomes than HLU despite less muscle atrophy and presumably greater mechanical stimulus, requiring further investigation. These data confirm that the PWS model is highly effective in applying controllable, reduced, long-term loading that produces predictable, discrete adaptive changes in muscle and bone of the hindlimb.
MECHANICAL LOADING; DISUSE; MECHANOSTAT; FUNCTIONAL ADAPTATION; WEIGHT BEARING
The extent to which sex-specific genetic effects contribute to phenotypic variation is largely unknown. We applied a novel Bayesian method, sparse partitioning, to detect gene by sex (GxS) and gene by gene (GxG) quantitative loci (QTLs) in 1,900 outbred heterogeneous stock mice. In an analysis of 55 phenotypes, we detected 16 GxS and 6 GxG QTLs. The increase in the amount of phenotypic variance explained by models including GxS was small, ranging from 0.14% to 4.30%. We conclude that GxS rarely make a large overall contribution to the heritability of phenotypes, however there are cases where these will be individually important.
Chronic stress has deleterious effects on immune function, which can lead to adverse health outcomes. However, studies investigating the impact of stress reduction interventions on immunity in clinical research have yielded divergent results, potentially stemming from differences in study design and genetic heterogeneity, among other clinical research challenges. To test the hypothesis that reducing glucocorticoid levels enhances certain immune functions, we administered influenza vaccine once (prime) or twice (boost) to mice housed in either standard control caging or environmental enrichment (EE) caging. We have shown that this approach reduces mouse corticosterone production. Compared with controls, EE mice had significantly lower levels of fecal corticosterone metabolites (FCMs) and increased splenic B and T lymphocyte numbers. Corticosterone levels were negatively associated with the numbers of CD19+ (r2 = 0.43, p = 0.0017), CD4+ (r2 = 0.28, p = 0.0154) and CD8+ cells (r2 = 0.20, p = 0.0503). Vaccinated mice showed nonsignificant differences in immunoglobulin G (IgG) titer between caging groups, although EE mice tended to exhibit larger increases in titer from prime to boost than controls; the interaction between the caging group (control versus EE) and vaccine group (prime versus boost) showed a strong statistical trend (cage-group*vaccine-group, F = 4.27, p = 0.0555), suggesting that there may be distinct effects of EE caging on primary versus secondary IgG vaccine responses. Vaccine-stimulated splenocytes from boosted EE mice had a significantly greater frequency of interleukin 5 (IL-5)-secreting cells than boosted controls (mean difference 7.7, IL-5 spot-forming units/106 splenocytes, 95% confidence interval 0.24–135.1, p = 0.0493) and showed a greater increase in the frequency of IL-5–secreting cells from prime to boost. Our results suggest that corticosterone reduction via EE caging was associated with enhanced secondary vaccine responses, but had little effect on primary responses in mice. These findings help identify differences in primary and secondary vaccine responses in relationship to stress mediators that may be relevant in clinical studies.
Linear infrastructures represent one of the most important human impacts on natural habitats and exert several effects on mammal populations. Motorways are recognized as a major cause of habitat fragmentation and degradation and of biodiversity loss. However, it is unknown whether motorways lead to increased physiological stress reactions in wild animal populations. We analysed faecal corticosterone metabolites (FCM) in wild populations of wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) living in a well-preserved Mediterranean agro-pastoral woodland at different distances (verge, 500 m and 1000 m) from the AP-51 motorway in Spain. Wood mice were captured with Sherman live traps, and fresh faecal samples from 424 individuals were collected and analyzed in the laboratory. The quantification of FCM was performed by a 5α-pregnane-3β,11β, 21-triol-20-one enzyme immunoassay. Results showed that females had higher FCM levels than males, and these levels were higher in breeding females. In addition, FCM levels were positively correlated with body weight of individuals. Wood mice captured where cattle were present showed higher FCM levels than individuals living where cattle were not detected. FCM levels were higher in non-breeding individuals living close to the motorway compared with FCM levels in those individuals captured further from the motorway. This is the first study showing evidence of the motorways' impact on physiological stress reactions in wild wood mice populations. Understanding how free-living animals are influenced by human interventions could help to understand other subtle changes observed in wild animal populations. Since mice are used world-wide as research models these results could open new perspectives testing human influence on the natural environment and trade-offs of species in degraded ecosystems.
Our objectives were to standarize the procedure needed to reproduce a similar surgical
scene which a pediatric surgeon would face on repairing a Bochdalek hernia in newborns and
to define the optimal time period for hernia development that achieve a realistic surgical
scenario with minimimal animal suffering. Twenty New Zealand white rabbits weighing 3–3.5
kg were divided into four groups depending on the time frame since hernia creation to
thoracoscopic repair: 48 h, 72 h, 96 h and 30 days. Bochdalek trigono was identified and
procedures for hernia creation and thoracoscopic repair were standarized. Blood was
collected for hematology (red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, hemoglobin and
hematocrit), biochemistry (blood urea nitrogen, creatinine, alanine aminotransferase,
aspartate aminotransferase, lactate dehydrogenase and creatine kinase) and gas analysis
(arterial blood pH, partial pressure of oxygen, partial pressure of carbón dioxide, oxygen
saturation and bicarbonate) at baseline and before the surgial repairment. Glucocorticoid
metabolites concentration in faeces was measured. Thoracoscopy video recordings were
evaluated by six pediatric surgeons and rated from 0 to 10 according to similarities with
congenital diaphragmatic hernia in newborn and with its thoracoscopic approach.
Statistical methods included the analysis of variance, and comparisons between groups were
followed by a post-hoc Tukey’s test. Fourty -eight h showed to be the optimal time frame
to obtain a diaphragmatic hernia similar to newborn scenario from a surgical point of view
with minimal stress for the animals.
animal stress; congenital diaphragmatic hernia; rabbit model; thoracoscopy
Wild carnivores in zoos, conservation breeding centres, and farms commonly live in relatively small, unstimulating enclosures. Under these captive conditions, in a range of species including giant pandas, black-footed ferrets, and European mink, male reproductive abilities are often poor. Such problems have long been hypothesized to be caused by these animals' housing conditions. We show for the first time that rearing under welfare-improving (i.e., highly valued and stress-reducing) environmental enrichments enhances male carnivores' copulatory performance: in mate choice competitions, enriched male American mink (Neovison vison) mated more often than non-enriched males. We screened for several potential mediators of this effect. First was physiological stress and its impact on reproductive physiology; second, stress-mediated changes in morphology and variables related to immunocompetence that could influence male attractiveness; and third, behavioural changes likely to affect social competence, particularly autistic-like excessive routine and repetition (‘perseveration’) as is reflected in the stereotypies common in captive animals. Consistent with physiological stress, excreted steroid metabolites revealed that non-enriched males had higher cortisol levels and lower androgen levels than enriched conspecifics. Their os penises (bacula) also tended to be less developed. Consistent with reduced attractiveness, non-enriched males were lighter, with comparatively small spleens and a trend to greater fluctuating asymmetry. Consistent with impaired social competence, non-enriched males performed more stereotypic behaviour (e.g., pacing) in their home cages. Of all these effects, the only significant predictor of copulation number was stereotypy (a trend suggesting that low bodyweights may also be influential): highly stereotypic males gained the fewest copulations. The neurophysiological changes underlying stereotypy thus handicap males sexually. We hypothesise that such males are abnormally perseverative when interacting with females. Investigating similar problems in other taxa would be worthwhile, since many vertebrates, wild and domestic, live in conditions that cause stereotypic behaviour and/or impair neurological development.
Standard practice typically requires the marking of laboratory mice so that they can be individually identified. However, many of the common methods compromise the welfare of the individuals being marked (as well as requiring time, effort, and/or resources on the part of researchers and technicians). Mixing strains of different colour within a cage would allow them to be readily visually identifiable, negating the need for more invasive marking techniques. Here we assess the impact that mixed strain housing has on the phenotypes of female C57BL/6 (black) and DBA/2 (brown) mice, and on the variability in the data obtained from them. Mice were housed in either mixed strain or single strain pairs for 19 weeks, and their phenotypes then assessed using 23 different behavioural, morphological, haematological and physiological measures widely used in research and/or important for assessing mouse welfare. No negative effects of mixed strain housing could be found on the phenotypes of either strain, including variables relevant to welfare. Differences and similarities between the two strains were almost all as expected from previously published studies, and none were affected by whether mice were housed in mixed- or single-strain pairs. Only one significant main effect of housing type was detected: mixed strain pairs had smaller red blood cell distribution widths, a measure suggesting better health (findings that now need replicating in case they were Type 1 errors resulting from our multiplicity of tests). Furthermore, mixed strain housing did not increase the variation in data obtained from the mice: the standard errors for all variables were essentially identical between the two housing conditions. Mixed strain housing also made animals very easy to distinguish while in the home cage. Female DBA/2 and C57BL/6 mice can thus be housed in mixed strain pairs for identification purposes, with no apparent negative effects on their welfare or the data they generate. This suggests that there is much value in exploring other combinations of strains.
Adaptive behavioural strategies promoting co-occurrence of competing species are known to result from a sympatric evolutionary past. Strategies should be different for indirect resource competition (exploitation, e.g., foraging and avoidance behaviour) than for direct interspecific interference (e.g., aggression, vigilance, and nest guarding). We studied the effects of resource competition and nest predation in sympatric small mammal species using semi-fossorial voles and shrews, which prey on vole offspring during their sensitive nestling phase. Experiments were conducted in caged outdoor enclosures. Focus common vole mothers (Microtus arvalis) were either caged with a greater white-toothed shrew (Crocidura russula) as a potential nest predator, with an herbivorous field vole (Microtus agrestis) as a heterospecific resource competitor, or with a conspecific resource competitor.
We studied behavioural adaptations of vole mothers during pregnancy, parturition, and early lactation, specifically modifications of the burrow architecture and activity at burrow entrances. Further, we measured pre- and postpartum faecal corticosterone metabolites (FCMs) of mothers to test for elevated stress hormone levels. Only in the presence of the nest predator were prepartum FCMs elevated, but we found no loss of vole nestlings and no differences in nestling body weight in the presence of the nest predator or the heterospecific resource competitor. Although the presence of both the shrew and the field vole induced prepartum modifications to the burrow architecture, only nest predators caused an increase in vigilance time at burrow entrances during the sensitive nestling phase.
Voles displayed an adequate behavioural response for both resource competitors and nest predators. They modified burrow architecture to improve nest guarding and increased their vigilance at burrow entrances to enhance offspring survival chances. Our study revealed differential behavioural adaptations to resource competitors and nest predators.
Behavioural adaptations; Small mammals; Interspecific interactions; Nest predation; Stress response; Faecal corticosterone metabolites; Burrow system; Shrews; Voles
Oral gavage dosing can induce stress and potentially confound experimental measurements, particularly when blood pressure and heart rate are endpoints of interest. Thus, we developed a pill formulation that mice would voluntarily consume and tested the hypothesis that pill dosing would be significantly less stressful than oral gavage. C57Bl/6 male mice were singly housed and on four consecutive days were exposed to an individual walking into the room (week 1, control), a pill being placed into the cage (week 2), and a dose of water via oral gavage (week 3). Blood pressure and heart rate were recorded by radiotelemetry continuously for 5 hr after treatment, and feces collected 6–10 hr after treatment for analysis of corticosterone metabolites. Both pill and gavage dosing significantly increased mean arterial pressure (MAP) during the first hour, compared to control. However, the increase in MAP was significantly greater after gavage and remained elevated up to 5 hr, while MAP returned to normal within 2 hr after a pill. Neither pill nor gavage dosing significantly increased heart rate during the first hour, compared to control; however, pill dosing significantly reduced heart rate while gavage significantly increased heart rate 2–5 hr post dosing. MAP and heart rate did not differ 24 hr after dosing. Lastly, only gavage dosing significantly increased fecal corticosterone metabolites, indicating a systemic stress response via activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. These data demonstrated that this pill dosing method of mice is significantly less stressful than oral gavage.
oral gavage; stress; blood pressure; alternative; corticosterone
Stereotypic behaviours, i.e. repetitive behaviours induced by frustration, repeated attempts to cope and/or brain dysfunction, are intriguing as they occur in a variety of domestic and captive species without any clear adaptive function. Among the different hypotheses, the coping hypothesis predicts that stereotypic behaviours provide a way for animals in unfavourable environmental conditions to adjust. As such, they are expected to have a lower physiological stress level (glucocorticoids) than non-stereotypic animals. Attempts to link stereotypic behaviours with glucocorticoids however have yielded contradictory results. Here we investigated correlates of oral and motor stereotypic behaviours and glucocorticoid levels in two large samples of domestic horses (NStudy1 = 55, NStudy2 = 58), kept in sub-optimal conditions (e.g. confinement, social isolation), and already known to experience poor welfare states. Each horse was observed in its box using focal sampling (study 1) and instantaneous scan sampling (study 2). Plasma samples (collected in study 1) but also non-invasive faecal samples (collected in both studies) were retrieved in order to assess cortisol levels.
Results showed that 1) plasma cortisol and faecal cortisol metabolites concentrations did not differ between horses displaying stereotypic behaviours and non-stereotypic horses and 2) both oral and motor stereotypic behaviour levels did not predict plasma cortisol or faecal cortisol metabolites concentrations.
Cortisol measures, collected in two large samples of horses using both plasma sampling as well as faecal sampling (the latter method minimizing bias due to a non-invasive sampling procedure), therefore do not indicate that stereotypic horses cope better, at least in terms of adrenocortical activity.
Stereotypic behaviours; Cortisol; Faeces; Plasma; Coping hypothesis; Horse
Chronic stress is associated with negative health outcomes and is linked with neuroendocrine changes, deleterious effects on innate and adaptive immunity, and central nervous system neuropathology. Although stress management is commonly advocated clinically, there is insufficient mechanistic understanding of how decreasing stress affects disease pathogenesis. Therefore, we have developed a “calm mouse model” with caging enhancements designed to reduce murine stress. Male BALB/c mice were divided into four groups: control (Cntl), standard caging; calm (Calm), large caging to reduce animal density, a cardboard nest box for shelter, paper nesting material to promote innate nesting behavior, and a polycarbonate tube to mimic tunneling; control exercise (Cntl Ex), standard caging with a running wheel, known to reduce stress; and calm exercise (Calm Ex), calm caging with a running wheel. Calm, Cntl Ex and Calm Ex animals exhibited significantly less corticosterone production than Cntl animals. We also observed changes in spleen mass, and in vitro splenocyte studies demonstrated that Calm Ex animals had innate and adaptive immune responses that were more sensitive to acute handling stress than those in Cntl. Calm animals gained greater body mass than Cntl, although they had similar food intake, and we also observed changes in body composition, using magnetic resonance imaging. Together, our results suggest that the Calm mouse model represents a promising approach to studying the biological effects of stress reduction in the context of health and in conjunction with existing disease models.
Taking blood samples is a common method in biomedical and biological research using guinea pigs. However, most blood sampling techniques are complicated and highly invasive and may therefore not be appropriate for certain research topics concerning stress and reproduction. Thus, a non-invasive method to measure steroid hormones is critically needed. The aim of this study was the biological validation of corresponding enzyme immunoassays for the measurement of fecal cortisol, progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone metabolites in guinea pigs. We examined the effect of subcutaneous injections of ACTH or saline on fecal cortisol metabolites to investigate the suitability of fecal samples to monitor adrenocortical activity. Furthermore, we investigated whether fecal sex steroid metabolites accurately reflected endocrine changes observed in plasma samples during female estrous cycles and male puberty, respectively. In addition, we compared fecal testosterone metabolites of intact males, castrated males, and females to investigate the reliability of fecal samples in discriminating gonadal status of males. Concentrations of fecal cortisol metabolites were significantly increased following ACTH challenge, indicating that adrenocortical activity can be monitored via fecal samples. Secondly, in females, plasma and fecal gonadal steroids were significantly correlated in most subjects. The assay for testosterone metabolites, on the other hand, could not clearly discriminate between test groups. From these findings we conclude that fecal samples can be used for the non-invasive assessment of adrenocortical and female reproductive status in guinea pigs. Testosterone metabolism seems to be more complex and further investigations are needed to establish a more suitable assay.
Guinea pigs; Gonadal steroids; Glucocorticoids; Feces; EIA
Environmental conditions likely affect physiology and behaviour of mice used for life sciences research on Earth or in Space. Here, we analysed the effects of cage confinement on the weightbearing musculoskeletal system, behaviour and stress of wild-type mice (C57BL/6JRj, 30 g b.wt., total n = 24) housed for 25 days in a prototypical ground-based and fully automated life support habitat device called “Mice in Space” (MIS). Compared with control housing (individually ventilated cages) the MIS mice revealed no significant changes in soleus muscle size and myofiber distribution (type I vs. II) and quality of bone (3-D microarchitecture and mineralisation of calvaria, spine and femur) determined by confocal and micro-computed tomography. Corticosterone metabolism measured non-invasively (faeces) monitored elevated adrenocortical activity at only start of the MIS cage confinement (day 1). Behavioural tests (i.e., grip strength, rotarod, L/D box, elevated plus-maze, open field, aggressiveness) performed subsequently revealed only minor changes in motor performance (MIS vs. controls). The MIS habitat will not, on its own, produce major effects that could confound interpretation of data induced by microgravity exposure during spaceflight. Our results may be even more helpful in developing multidisciplinary protocols with adequate scenarios addressing molecular to systems levels using mice of various genetic phenotypes in many laboratories.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00360-008-0330-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Mouse physiology; Spaceflight; Musculoskeletal system; Stress; Behaviour; Genetically engineered animal models; Animal housing and cage
Dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, including hyper- or hypo-activity of the stress hormone system, plays a critical role in the pathophysiology of mood disorders such as major depression (MD). Further biological hallmarks of MD are disturbances in circadian rhythms and sleep architecture. Applying a translational approach, an animal model has recently been developed, focusing on the deviation in sensitivity to stressful encounters. This so-called ‘stress reactivity’ (SR) mouse model consists of three separate breeding lines selected for either high (HR), intermediate (IR), or low (LR) corticosterone increase in response to stressors.
In order to contribute to the validation of the SR mouse model, our study combined the analysis of behavioural and HPA axis rhythmicity with sleep-EEG recordings in the HR/IR/LR mouse lines. We found that hyper-responsiveness to stressors was associated with psychomotor alterations (increased locomotor activity and exploration towards the end of the resting period), resembling symptoms like restlessness, sleep continuity disturbances and early awakenings that are commonly observed in melancholic depression. Additionally, HR mice also showed neuroendocrine abnormalities similar to symptoms of MD patients such as reduced amplitude of the circadian glucocorticoid rhythm and elevated trough levels. The sleep-EEG analyses, furthermore, revealed changes in rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep as well as slow wave activity, indicative of reduced sleep efficacy and REM sleep disinhibition in HR mice.
Thus, we could show that by selectively breeding mice for extremes in stress reactivity, clinically relevant endophenotypes of MD can be modelled. Given the importance of rhythmicity and sleep disturbances as biomarkers of MD, both animal and clinical studies on the interaction of behavioural, neuroendocrine and sleep parameters may reveal molecular pathways that ultimately lead to the discovery of new targets for antidepressant drugs tailored to match specific pathologies within MD.
Stress generated by humans on wildlife by continuous development of outdoor recreational activities is of increasing concern for biodiversity conservation. Human disturbance often adds to other negative impact factors affecting the dynamics of vulnerable populations. It is not known to which extent the rapidly spreading free-riding snow sports actually elicit detrimental stress (allostatic overload) upon wildlife, nor what the potential associated fitness and survival costs are. Using a non-invasive technique, we evaluated the physiological stress response induced by free-riding snow sports on a declining bird species of Alpine ecosystems. The results of a field experiment in which radiomonitored black grouse (Tetrao tetrix) were actively flushed from their snow burrows once a day during four consecutive days showed an increase in the concentration of faecal stress hormone (corticosterone) metabolites after disturbance. A large-scale comparative analysis across the southwestern Swiss Alps indicated that birds had higher levels of these metabolites in human-disturbed versus undisturbed habitats. Disturbance by snow sport free-riders appears to elevate stress, which potentially represents a new serious threat for wildlife. The fitness and survival costs of allostatic adjustments have yet to be estimated.
stress ecology; conservation biology; species protection; alpine ecosystems; human disturbance; winter snow sports