Marquardt, N., Feja, M., Hünigen, H. et al. 2018. Euthanasia of laboratory mice: Are isoflurane and sevoflurane real alternatives to carbon dioxide? PLoS ONE 13(9), e0203793.
In the European Union (EU) millions of laboratory mice are used and killed for experimental and other scientific purposes each year. Although controversially discussed, the use of carbon dioxide (CO2) is still permitted for killing rodents according to the Directive 2010/63/EU. Within the scope of refinement, our aim was to investigate if isoflurane and sevoflurane are an appropriate alternative killing method to CO2 in mice. Different concentrations of CO2 (filling rates of 20%, 60%, 100%; CO2 20, 60, 100), isoflurane (Iso 2%, 5%) and sevoflurane (Sevo 4.8%, 8%) were compared in two mouse strains (NMRI, C57Bl/6J) using a broad spectrum of behavioral parameters, including the approach-avoidance test, and analyzing blood for stress parameters (glucose, adrenaline, noradrenaline). We focused in our study on the period from the beginning of the gas inlet to loss of consciousness, as during this period animals are able to perceive pain and distress. Our results show that only higher concentrations of CO2 (CO2 60, 100) and isoflurane (5%) induced surgical tolerance within 300 s in both strains, with CO2 100 being the fastest acting inhalant anesthetic. The potency of halogenated ethers depended on the mouse strain, with C57Bl/6J being more susceptible than NMRI mice. Behavioral analysis revealed no specific signs of distress, e. g. stress-induced grooming, and pain, i. e. audible vocalizations, for all inhalant gases. However, adrenaline and noradrenaline plasma concentrations were increased, especially in NMRI mice exposed to CO2 in high concentrations, whereas we did not observe such increase in animals exposed to isoflurane or sevoflurane. Escape latencies in the approach-avoidance test using C57Bl/6J mice did not differ between the three inhalant gases, however, some animals became recumbent during isoflurane and sevoflurane but not during CO2 exposure. The rise in catecholamine concentrations suggests that CO2 exposure might be linked to a higher stress response compared to isoflurane and sevoflurane exposure, although we did not observe a behavioral correlate for that. Follow-up studies investigating other fast-acting stress hormones and central anxiety circuits are needed to confirm our findings.