Oatess, T. L., Harrison, F. E., Himmel, L. E. et al. 2021. Effects of acrylic tunnel enrichment on anxiety-like behavior, neurogenesis, and physiology of C57BL/6J mice. JAALAS 60(1), 44-53.
Environmental enrichment for mice lags behind the standard enrichment offered to other laboratory rodents due to concerns about environmental variability and, in specific contexts, aggression. Our objective in this study was to evaluate concerns that the introduction of structural enrichment in the form of a single red acrylic mouse tunnel into murine housing may confound study findings. We measured effects on anxiety-like behaviors (elevated zero maze and open field activity), hippocampal neurogenesis, body weight gain, and physiologic markers of stress (adrenal gland weight, plasma corticosterone concentration, and neutrophil:lymphocyte ratio). Male and female C57BL/6J mice were randomly assigned to one of 2 groups: a standard-housed control group with enrichment consisting of paper nesting material, or an enriched group that received a single acrylic tunnel in addition to nesting material. All results fell within biologically normal ranges regardless of treatment, and variability (standard deviation) was not significantly different between groups for any measure. Mice in the enriched group showed modest differences during open field testing suggestive of decreased anxiety, traveling farther and depositing fewer fecal boli than standard-housed mice. Male mice in the tunnel-enriched group gained more body weight than standard-housed male mice. No significant effects by treatment were found in neurogenic or physiologic parameters. These results indicate that provision of simple structural enrichment is unlikely to have confounding effects on murine anxiety-like behaviors, neurogenesis, body weight gain, or physiologic parameters. We therefore recommend the inclusion of simple structural enrichment, such as an acrylic tunnel, to the standard environmental enrichment of social housing and nesting material for mice.