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PhenoWorld: addressing animal welfare in a new paradigm to house and assess rat behaviour

Castelhano-Carlos, Magda J, Baumans, Vera, Sousa, Nuno
Laboratory animals 2017 v.51 no.1 pp. 36-43
animal models, animal welfare, biomedical research, brain, cages, laboratory animals, motivation, nervous system diseases, rats, sleep, social behavior
The use of animals is essential in biomedical research. The laboratory environment where the animals are housed has a major impact on them throughout their lives and influences the outcome of animal experiments. Therefore, there has been an increased effort in the refinement of laboratory housing conditions which is explicitly reflected in international regulations and recommendations. Since housing conditions affect behaviour and brain function as well as well-being, the validation of an animal model or paradigm to study the brain and central nervous system disorders is not complete without an evaluation of its implication on animal welfare. Here we discuss several aspects of animal welfare, comparing groups of six rats living in the PhenoWorld (PhW), a recently developed and validated paradigm for studying rodent behaviour, with standard-housed animals (in cages of six rats or pair-housed). In this study we present new data on home-cage behaviour showing that PhW animals have a clearer circadian pattern of sleep and social interaction. We conclude that, by promoting good basic health and functioning, together with the performance of natural behaviours, and maintaining animals’ control over some of their environment but still keeping some physical and social challenges, the PhW stimulates positive affective states and higher motivation in rats, which might contribute to an increased welfare for animals living in the PhW.