Corredor, K., Marín, D. P., García, C. C. et al. 2022. Providing environmental enrichment without altering behavior in male and female Wistar rats (Rattus norvegicus). JAALAS 61(3), 234-240.

In research using animal models, subjects are commonly maintained under standard housing conditions, mainly because of the idea that enhancing welfare conditions could alter experimental data. Another common practice in many laboratories relates to the preponderant use of males. Several reasons justifying this practice include the rapid hormonal and endocrine change in females, which may require a higher number of female animals to achieve more homogenous groups, thereby creating a dilemma with the reduction principle in animal research. In past decades, a relationship between enriched environments and enhanced cognitive functions has been reported in rats, but many of those enriched environmental protocols were not systematically or rigorously studied, leading to unexpected effects on behavior. Here we report the effects of 4 types of housing conditions (standard, structural changes, exercise, and foraging) in Wistar rats on anxiety (elevated plus maze), exploratory (open field), and stress vulnerability (forced swim test) responses. Sex was used as a blocking factor. Data show no effect of housing conditions on anxiety and exploratory behaviors, but do show an effect on stress responses. These results suggest the possibility of using a protocol for environmental enrichment without concern about altering experimental data. From this stand, new ways to enhance animal welfare in research laboratories could be designed and implemented.

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