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PhD Studentship

Taming anxiety and variation in laboratory mice

Portrait of Professor Jane Hurst

At a glance

Award date
October 2010 - September 2014
Grant amount
Principal investigator
Professor Jane Hurst
University of Liverpool


  • Refinement
Read the abstract
View the grant profile on GtR


Project background

Routine husbandry and experimental procedures require laboratory animals to have frequent contact with humans. The handling and restraint required during procedures can evoke anxiety and stress in the animals, with accompanying changes in neurochemistry. Currently, the most common method for handling a mouse is to pick it up by the base of the tail, however Professor Hurst has demonstrated this method is aversive to mice causing both stress and anxiety1. Conversely, alternative handling methods such as running mice into a tunnel or scooping mice up on the hand (known as cupping) promote positive responses to human contact.

Why we funded it

This PhD Studentship aims to establish easily implemented practical handling approaches to promote the use of refined mouse handling methods and restraint procedures. The impact of these approaches on the performance of animals in behavioural experiments will also be established.   

The majority of experimental procedures in the UK involve mice, with approximately 70% of all procedures recorded using mice. Approximately two million mice annually are used in procedures regulated by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and recorded in the Home Office Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals. This estimate excludes animals used in non-regulated procedures.

Research methods

Anxiety and stress are known to impact a broad range of behavioural and physiological responses, impairing animals in their ability to respond to stimuli or learn/solve specific tasks. Many of these responses are analysed in scientific research and testing, for example in behavioural tests. Any stressors, including handling and restraint, impacting on mouse behaviour can cause issues with reproducibility and variation within studies. In addition to establishing non-aversive methods of handling, this studentship will explore whether these approaches reduce variation in experiments likely to be influenced stress and anxiety responses.



  1. Hurst JL, West RS (2010) Taming anxiety in laboratory mice. Nature Methods 7: (825-826). doi:10.1038/nmeth.1500

Application abstract

Routine handling and restraint of laboratory animals has profound - but variable - effects on anxiety, stress physiology and underlying neurochemistry. Recently, we have shown remarkably strong differences in anxiety, aversion and behavioural variation in response to alternative methods for routine handling of laboratory mice. The aim of this studentship will be to extend our initial studies to establish practical approaches that can easily be implemented to reduce anxiety and stress responses of laboratory mice to routine handling, restraint and mild procedures. This has the capacity to substantially improve the lifetime experience of mice used in research. The student will also explore whether such approaches reduce variation in experiments that are likely to be influenced by stress and anxiety responses, and will increase reproducibility between experimenters. This has the potential to reduce the numbers of animals needed for research.



  1. Gouveia K and Hurst JL (2019). Improving the practicality of using non-aversive handling methods to reduce background stress and anxiety in laboratory mice. Scientific Reports 9:e20305. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-56860-7
  2. Gouveia K and Hurst JL (2017). Optimising reliability of mouse performance in behavioural testing: the major role of non-aversive handling. Scientific Reports 7:44999. doi: 10.1038/srep44999
  3. Gouveia K and Hurst JL (2013). Reducing Mouse Anxiety during Handling: Effect of Experience with Handling Tunnels. PLoS ONE 8(6):e66401. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.006640