Novak, J., Jaric, I., Rosso, M. et al. 2022. Handling method affects measures of anxiety, but not chronic stress in mice. Scientific Reports 12(1), 20938.

Studies in mice have shown that less aversive handling methods (e.g. tunnel or cup handling) can reduce behavioural measures of anxiety in comparison to picking mice up by their tail. Despite such evidence, tail handling continues to be used routinely. Besides resistance to change accustomed procedures, this may also be due to the fact that current evidence in support of less aversive handling is mostly restricted to effects of extensive daily handling, which may not apply to routine husbandry practices. The aim of our study was to assess whether, and to what extent, different handling methods during routine husbandry induce differences in behavioural and physiological measures of stress in laboratory mice. To put the effects of handling method in perspective with chronic stress, we compared handling methods to a validated paradigm of unpredictable chronic mild stress (UCMS). We housed mice of two strains (Balb/c and C57BL/6) and both sexes either under standard laboratory conditions (CTRL) or under UCMS. Half of the animals from each housing condition were tail handled and half were tunnel handled twice per week, once during a cage change and once for a routine health check. We found strain dependent effects of handling method on behavioural measures of anxiety: tunnel handled Balb/c mice interacted with the handler more than tail handled conspecifics, and tunnel handled CTRL mice showed increased open arm exploration in the elevated plus-maze. Mice undergoing UCMS showed increased plasma corticosterone levels and reduced sucrose preference. However, we found no effect of handling method on these stress-associated measures. Our results therefore indicate that routine tail handling can affect behavioural measures of anxiety, but may not be a significant source of chronic husbandry stress. Our results also highlight strain dependent responses to handling methods.

Animal Type