The behaviour of laboratory mice as an indicator of welfare state in genetically modified mice

Project Background

Genetically modified (GM) mice are used extensively as human disease models, including chronic and degenerative diseases. Humane endpoints are identified to ensure that as the disease advances animals are euthanised ideally before the onset of clinical symptoms that compromise welfare. Methods for detecting humane endpoints in GM mice can be time-consuming and may increase animal stress if they require extensive handling.

Why we funded it

This Project Grant aims to refine the use of GM mice by identifying behavioural changes that can be used to indicate reduced welfare state. This will be allowed for by providing a suitably enriched environment where changes in home-cage behaviours can be observed objectively allowing early intervention and better human endpoints. 

Research Methods

Not all mouse behaviours are of equal importance to the animal. Conditions, such as disease, can result in a reduction or ceasing of particular behaviours. Behaviours essential for survival, such as eating and drinking, will be performed at the same frequency even in harsh conditions. Other behaviours, such as monitoring the environment or seeking novelty are less resilient and these are often the first to be lost as an animal readjusts its priorities. By providing a suitably enriched cage which permits a wide range of high and low priority behaviours, the detection of behavioural changes indicating reduced animal welfare is possible. The future aim is for observed changes in behaviour to be identified automatically in the home-cage environment. 

Littin K et al. (2008). Towards humane end points: behavioural changes precede clinical signs of disease in a Huntington's disease model. PNAS 275(1645):1865-1874. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0388

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Project grant



Principal investigator

Professor Christine Nicol


University of Bristol


Mike Mendl
Chris Sherwin

Grant reference number


Award date

May 2005 - Sep 2006

Grant amount