Enriching the Housing of the Laboratory Rodent: How Might It Affect Research Outcomes?

William T. Greenough and Ann Benefiel

This presentation focuses on the research cost-benefit aspect of enrichment of housing conditions for laboratory rats and mice. The choice of this subject emerged because the session organizers requested a presentation on “laboratory animal housing enrichment” and included the following in their letter of charge:

The workshop will…focus…on identifying gaps in the current knowledge in order to encourage future research endeavors, assessing potential financial and outcome costs of unscientifically-based regulations on facilities and research, and determining possible negative impacts of arbitrary regulations on animal welfare.

The basic view put forth herein is that caution is warranted in the adoption of environmental enrichment procedures, because they may complicate interpretation of research results.

We begin by briefly discussing the history of what has come to be called “enriched housing.” The first description of an effect of enhanced living conditions on behavior as an indication of altered brain function was the work of Hebb (1949), who compared rats that he reared as “pets” in his home with counterparts reared under normal laboratory conditions (an experiment unlikely to be repeated, given current regulations regarding research animal housing!). Hebb reported that the home-reared rats were superior to the laboratory rats on complex problem-solving tasks and that they continued to move ahead as they were tested on successive

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