MacLellan, A., Nazal, B., Young et al. 2022. Waking inactivity as a welfare indicator in laboratory mice: Investigating postures, facial expressions and depression-like states. Royal Society Open Science 9(11), 221083.

Animal welfare assessment relies on valid and practical indicators of affect. In mice, the most widely used research vertebrates, lying still with eyes open, inactive-but-awake (IBA) in the home cage, has potential to be one such indicator. IBA is elevated in barren, conventional housing compared with well-resourced, enriched housing, and predicts immobility in Forced Swim Tests, a common measure of ‘helplessness’ in depression research. In Experiment 1, using females from three strains (C57BL/6, Balb/c and DBA/2), we first replicated past findings, confirming higher levels of IBA in conventional cages and a positive relationship between IBA and helplessness. We then extended this research to three other signs of depression: changes in weight and sleep, and reduced hippocampal volume. Here, IBA positively covaried with body mass index, with sleep in DBA/2s and conventionally housed BALB/cs, and negatively covaried with hippocampal volume in conventionally housed C57BL/6s. In Experiment 2, we sought to refine the phenotype of IBA to improve its accuracy as a welfare indicator. Here, scoring IBA performed in hunched postures appeared to improve its accuracy as an indicator in Balb/c mice. Additional research is now needed to further refine the phenotype of IBA and to confirm whether it reflects states consistent with depression, or instead other underlying poor welfare conditions.

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