Sharing new non-invasive circadian phenotyping methods

Why did we fund this project?

This award aims to refine circadian rhythm studies by using non-invasive methods to measure sleep patterns and body temperature.

Circadian rhythms regulate virtually all aspects of behaviour and physiology in many plants, animals, fungi and certain bacterial species. A disrupted circadian rhythm is a hallmark of many disease, such as cancer and in neurodegenerative disorders. Activity levels and body temperatures can be analysed to monitor circadian rhythms, which typically requires invasive surgical procedures under general anaesthesia to implant electrodes. Professor Stuart Peirson has developed a new method of measuring sleep and body temperature using sensors placed above the animal’s home cage that can detect movement or heat signatures. These avoid the need for invasive surgeries in circadian rhythm studies.

Stuart will host a number of hands-on workshops in Oxford to train researchers from five different research groups in Berlin in the refined techniques. He will also develop online training to allow others to take up the methods. Analysis of circadian rhythms in this way generates large amounts of data, these will be hosted on a database to enable other researchers to access this data.

This project will transfer expertise in two new refined methods of studying mouse physiology and behaviour developed in Oxford to a network of collaborators based in Berlin. Our lab has established and validated new non-invasive approaches to assess sleep and body temperature in laboratory mice. These methods provide major welfare refinements in comparison with existing invasive methods.

In this project we will share our expertise with these new methods with collaborators in Berlin. By establishing these techniques in a central facility, this will benefit five separate circadian research groups working on a range of different mouse models, including neuropsychiatry, immunology, oncology and RNA biochemistry.

To enable our collaborators to use these methods, we will run a series of hands-on workshops in Oxford, where end-users will learn how these systems work, see them in action, and build their own systems from scratch. Attendees will also learn how to analyse the data obtained from these systems. These workshops will enable attendees to set these systems up in their own lab, encouraging the wider use of these methods in the circadian community. Moreover, they will provide an ideal opportunity to develop a range of online training material to enable the wider community to more easily implement these methods.

Finally, we will work with mathematical experts in circadian data analysis to improve our data analysis pipelines, with a particular focus on the detection of circadian disruption - a hallmark of many disorders. We will also encourage clearly annotated behavioural data deposition, which will improve transparency and reproducibility of circadian studies. This will provide a major resource to this user community, enabling data sharing to reduce - and in some cases even replace - the use of new animals.

Brown LA et al. (2020). Simultaneous Assessment of Circadian Rhythms and Sleep in Mice Using Passive Infrared Sensors: A User's Guide. Current Protocols in Mouse Biology 10(3):e81. doi: 10.1002/cpmo.81

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Skills and Knowledge Transfer grant




University of Oxford

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Award date

Sep 2020 - Aug 2022

Grant amount