Costa, R., Tamascia, M. L., Nogueira, M. D. et al. 2012. Handling of adolescent rats improves learning and memory and decreases anxiety. JAALAS 51(5), 548-553.

Some environmental interventions can result in physiologic and behavioral changes in laboratory animals. In this context, the handling of adolescent or adult rodents has been reported to influence exploratory behavior and emotionality. Here we examined the effects of handling on memory and anxiety levels of adolescent rats. Male Sprague-Dawley rats (age, 60 d) were divided into a control group and a handled group, which were handled for 5 min daily, 5 d per week, for 6 wk. During handling bouts, the rat was removed from its cage, placed in the experimenter's lap or on the top of a table, and had its neck and back gently stroked by the experimenter's fingers. During week 6, each rat's anxiety level was evaluated in the elevated plus-maze (EPM) test. Learning and memory were evaluated 48 h later, by measuring escape latency in the elevated plus-maze test. Plasma corticosterone and catecholamine levels were measured also. Norepinephrine levels were lower in the handled rats compared with control animals, with no differences in epinephrine and corticosterone. As compared with the control rats, the handled rats showed increases in the percentage of time spent in the open arms of the test apparatus, percentage of entries into open arms, and number of visits to the end of the open arms and decreases in the latency of the first open arm entry. Escape latency was lower in the handled rats compared with control rats in both the first and second trials. The data obtained suggest that handling decreases anxiety levels and improves learning skills and memory in rats.

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