Reuser, A., Wenzel, K., Felix, S. B. et al. 2022. Simultaneous assessment of spontaneous cage activity and voluntary wheel running in group-housed mice. Scientific Reports 12(1), 4444.

Small animal models are frequently used to improve our understanding of the molecular and biological signaling pathways underlying the beneficial effects of physical activity and exercise. Unfortunately, when running wheels are employed, mice and rats are often kept single-housed to determine the individual running distance of each animal. However, social isolation can be stressful for rodents, and may alter an individual’s propensity for or response to exercise. For example, increased stress from single housing may significantly affect the results when investigating systemic metabolic responses to exercise. We have combined two already available and well-established systems, a radiotelemetry system and a running wheel, to determine spontaneous cage activity (SCA) as well as voluntary exercise (VE) levels of the individual animal in group-housed rodents. Further, we developed a simple software tool which allows monitoring and analyzing the data. Specifically, the radiotelemetry-system utilizes radio-frequency identification via a small, implanted chip to determine the location of each animal. Since, in addition to the animals’ position, also the location of the running wheel in the cage is known, the conclusion of which animal is exercising can be drawn. The developed software enables a fast and reliable assignment of the VE data to the individual animal and a simple analysis of the data collected. Hence, our combined method may be used to investigate the beneficial effects of physical activity, as well as the impact of therapeutic interventions on animal behavior in group-housed rodents.

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