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Open Access Effect of Environmental Enrichment on Aggression in BALB/cJ and BALB/cByJ Mice Monitored by Using an Automated System

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Aggression among mice remains a common undesirable problem in laboratory settings, and animal welfare and scientific outcomes may become compromised depending on the severity of aggression. This study evaluated the effect of cage enrichment comprising a bilevel, mounted 'mezzanine' compared with a cotton square or shelter on intracage male aggression over a 6-wk period. Our first study involved home-cage behavioral challenges to male mice from a high-aggression substrain (BALB/cJ) and low-aggression substrain (BALB/cByJ). Aggressive interactions and locomotor activity were scored manually and then compared with measures of activity obtained by using a continuous automated home-cage monitoring system, the Digital Ventilated Caging (DVC) system. BALB/cJ mice exhibited similar levels of aggression across housing conditions, whereas BALB/cByJ mice had lower aggression when housed with a mezzanine. In the second study, videorecordings and continuous DVC automated measures were collected over 24 h and divided into 12-h light and dark phases. BALB/cByJ mice—but not BALB/cJ—mice had increased aggressive behaviors during the dark phase. However, the DVC detected higher activity levels during the dark phase, compared with the light phase, in both substrains. Elevated activity levels recorded by the DVC correlated with fighting bouts and high levels of locomotion. These results show that a bilevel structural form of enrichment reduces aggression, depending on the BALB/c substrain, and confirms higher aggression levels in the BALB/cJ substrain. In addition, our findings provide evidence that the DVC is effective in identifying mouse cages with patterns of high activity levels, signaling possible aggression incidences, thus potentially allowing for early intervention and consequently improving animal welfare.

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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Division of Comparative Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 2: Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities and Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Publication date: May 1, 2018

This article was made available online on April 18, 2018 as a Fast Track article with title: "Effect of Environmental Enrichment on Aggression in BALB/cJ and BALB/cByJ Mice Monitored by Using an Automated System".

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  • The Journal of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (JAALAS) serves as an official communication vehicle for the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS). The journal includes a section of refereed articles and a section of AALAS association news. The mission of the refereed section of the journal is to disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed information on animal biology, technology, facility operations, management, and compliance as relevant to the AALAS membership. JAALAS accepts research reports (data-based) or scholarly reports (literature-based), with the caveat that all articles, including solicited manuscripts, must include appropriate references and must undergo peer review.

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