Are the effects of different enrichment designs on the physiology and behaviour of DBA/2 mice consistent?

P P Tsai, H D Stelzer, H J Hedrich, H Hackbarth
Laboratory Animals 2003, 37 (4): 314-27
Environmental enrichment is intended to improve the well-being of laboratory animals. Although many researchers have indicated that environmental enrichment may enhance animal well-being, there is some evidence that enrichment differs in its effects on physiology and behaviour between species and strains. The present study focuses on the effects of different enrichment designs on the physiology and behaviour of male and female DBA/2 mice. A total of 48 DBA/2J mice, 24 males and 24 females were used for this experiment. Upon arrival at about 3 weeks of age, the animals were randomly allotted to three experimental groups: NE, non-enrichment; E1, enriched with nest box, wooden climbing bar and nest material according to Scharmann (1993); E2, enriched with horizontal and vertical dividers, modified from Haemisch and Gärtner (1994). Same-sex groups of four mice were housed for 12 weeks in type III Makrolon cages with (E1 or E2) or without (NE) enrichment objects. Behavioural performance (Open Field, Food Drive and Elevated Plus Maze tests) and physiological traits (haematological variables, body weight and organ weights, corticosterone and thyroxine levels) were measured. This study observed that enrichment had significant effects on the mean values of body weight (females), Open Field and Food Drive tests. The most significant housing differences were found between the E2 and NE/E1 groups. Furthermore, sex differences in the NE, E1 and E2 groups were not consistent for several variables (growth rate, relative weights of spleen, kidney and heart, Food Drive and Elevated Plus Maze behavioural performance). There was often a higher coefficient of variation (CV) in the E1 and E2 groups as compared to the NE group, chiefly in physiological traits and in the Open Field and Food Drive tests. The results of this study indicate, that the effects of enrichment designs used in the present study are not consistent, but vary according to sex and the variable studied.

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