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NC3Rs | 20 Years: Pioneering Better Science
Office-led project

Rodent high-yield behavioural experiments

At a glance

Current contacts


  • Refinement
A black mouse in a plastic cage, standing on paper nesting material.


We convened an expert working group to refine behavioural training of rodents for high-yield sensory discrimination tasks. This work was instigated at the request of academics from the sensory neuroscience research community.

The field of sensory neuroscience is changing with the advent of increasingly sophisticated behavioural equipment which makes it possible to run hundreds of behavioural trials within a single session (high-yield behavioural tasks). By conducting such densely-packed sessions, the data yield and robustness of these studies is increased. This experimental approach can be used to study the neural activity underlying sensory behaviours in response to odours, auditory stimuli, visual stimuli and tactile cues.

The increasing use of rodents in high-yield behavioural tasks has highlighted possible welfare concerns. For example, surgery is required to implant head-fixation devices to ensure precise control of head movements for stable neural recordings and, in most of these studies, animals are motivated to participate in behavioural tasks by food or fluid restriction. While these methods are used commonly in the field, there was little consensus on how they are best performed and whether alternatives could be used in certain circumstances before this project was conducted. Establishing best practice for these experiments represents a refinement opportunity in this ever-growing field.

The working group included academics, industry scientists, a veterinarian and animal care staff with experience in sensory and behavioural neuroscience. Recommendations from the group have now been published, featuring refinements to the surgical and behavioural aspects of this work as well as the use of fluid control [1]. These recommendations are based on the expert opinion of the group, extensive reviews of the existing literature and an international survey conducted and analysed as a part of this project.

Read the paper: Barkus C et al. (2022). Refinements to rodent head fixation and fluid/food control for neuroscience. J Neurosci Methods 381:109705. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2022.109705.


We have a dedicated resource page for this work, including the paper and associated supporting material as well as additional summary sheets of the recommendations. 

There are several summary sheets, each dedicated to a different audience:

  • Researchers using these techniques.
  • Animal care staff such as technicians involved in the day-to-day maintenance of animals used in this type of research
  • Ethical review body members, for example scientific members of AWERBs, who need to be able to understand these techniques despite having limited hands-on experience of them. 

Working group members

Name Institution
Dr Ian Ragan (Chair) Independent
Dr Chris Barkus NC3Rs
Dr Caroline Bergmann University of Nottingham
Dr Tiago Branco University College London
Prof Matteo Carandini University College London
Dr Paul Chadderton University of Bristol
Dr Gregorio Galiñanes University of Geneva
Dr Gary Gilmour COMPASS Pathways
Prof Daniel Huber University of Geneva
Dr John Huxter Transpharmation
Dr Adil Khan King’s College London
Prof Andrew King University of Oxford
Prof Miguel Maravall University of Sussex
Mrs Tina O’Mahoney University College London
Dr Mark Prescott NC3Rs
Prof Emma Robinson University of Bristol
Prof Andreas Schaefer Francis Crick Institute and University College London
Prof Simon Schultz Imperial College London
Prof Frank Sengpiel Cardiff University


  1. Barkus C et al. (2022). Refinements to rodent head fixation and fluid/food control for neuroscience. J Neurosci Methods 381:109705. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2022.109705.