Jirkof, P., Abdelrahman, A., Bleich, A. et al. 2020. A safe bet? Inter-laboratory variability in behaviour-based severity assessment. Laboratory Animals 54(1), 73–82.
Evidence-based severity assessment is essential as a basis for ethical evaluation in animal experimentation to ensure animal welfare, legal compliance and scientific quality. To fulfil these tasks scientists, animal care and veterinary personnel need assessment tools that provide species-relevant measurements of the animals' physical and affective state. In a three-centre study inter-laboratory robustness of body weight monitoring, mouse grimace scale (MGS) and burrowing test were evaluated. The parameters were assessed in naïve and tramadol treated female C57BL/6J mice. During tramadol treatment a body weight loss followed by an increase, when treatment was terminated, was observed in all laboratories. Tramadol treatment did not affect the MGS or burrowing performance. Results were qualitatively comparable between the laboratories, but quantitatively significantly different (inter-laboratory analysis). Burrowing behaviour seems to be highly sensitive to inter-laboratory differences in testing protocol. All locations obtained comparable information regarding the qualitative effect of tramadol treatment in C57BL/6J mice, however, datasets differed as a result of differences in test and housing conditions. In conclusion, our study confirms that results of behavioural testing can be affected by many factors and may differ between laboratories. Nevertheless, the evaluated parameters appeared relatively robust even when conditions were not harmonized extensively and present useful tools for severity assessment. However, analgesia-related side effects on parameters have to be considered carefully.