Indexed on: 21 Sep '11Published on: 21 Sep '11Published in: PloS one
Housing conditions represent an important environmental variable playing a critical role in the assessment of mouse behaviour. In the present study the effects of isolation and nesting material on the behaviour of female C57BL/6J mice were evaluated. The mice were subjected to different rearing conditions from weaning (at the age of 3 weeks). The study groups were group- and single-housed mice, divided further into groups with or without nesting material (species-specific enrichment). After 8 weeks spent in respective conditions the behavioural testing began. Both factors (social conditions and nesting material) appeared to have a significant impact on the behavioural phenotype. However, it is important to stress that the interaction between the factors was virtually absent. We established that isolation increased locomotor activity and reduced anxiety-like behaviour in several tests of exploration. In contrast, absence of nesting material increased anxiety-like behaviour. Neither factor affected rota-rod performance, nociception and prepulse inhibition. Contextual fear memory was significantly reduced in single-housed mice, and interestingly, in mice with nesting material. Cued fear memory was reduced by single-housing, but not affected by enrichment. Mice from enriched cages displayed faster and better learning and spatial search strategy in the water maze. In contrast, isolation caused significant impairment in the water maze. In conclusion, both isolation and species-specific enrichment have profound effects on mouse behaviour and should be considered in design of the experiments and in assessment of animal welfare issues.