Weegh, N., Zentrich, E., Zechner, D. et al. 2021. Voluntary wheel running behaviour as a tool to assess the severity in a mouse pancreatic cancer model. PLOS ONE 16(12), e0261662.

Laboratory animals frequently undergo routine experimental procedures such as handling, restraining and injections. However, as a known source of stress, these procedures potentially impact study outcome and data quality. In the present study, we, therefore, performed an evidence-based severity assessment of experimental procedures used in a pancreatic cancer model including surgical tumour induction and subsequent chemotherapeutic treatment via repeated intraperitoneal injections. Cancer cell injection into the pancreas was performed during a laparotomy under general anaesthesia. After a four-day recovery phase, mice received either drug treatment (galloflavin and metformin) or the respective vehicle substances via daily intraperitoneal injections. In addition to clinical scoring, an automated home-cage monitoring system was used to assess voluntary wheel running (VWR) behaviour as an indicator of impaired well-being. After surgery, slightly elevated clinical scores and minimal body weight reductions, but significantly decreased VWR behaviour were observed. During therapy, body weight declined in response to chemotherapy, but not after vehicle substance injection, while VWR activity was decreased in both cases. VWR behaviour differed between treatment groups and revealed altered nightly activity patterns. In summary, by monitoring VWR a high impact of repeated injections on the well-being of mice was revealed and substance effects on well-being were distinguishable. However, no differences in tumour growth between treatment groups were observed. This might be due to the severity of the procedures uncovered in this study, as exaggerated stress responses are potentially confounding factors in preclinical studies. Finally, VWR was a more sensitive indicator of impairment than clinical scoring in this model.

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