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Center on Human Development and Disability
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Mouse Behavior Laboratory (MBL)

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Dr. Murphy Sean P. Murphy, Ph.D., Director

Dr. Cole Toby B. Cole, Ph.D., Research Manager

Overall Objectives

The Mouse Behavior Laboratory (MBL) provides behavioral testing capabilities to investigators at the Center on Human Development and Disability (CHDD). The MBL offers a broad spectrum of assistance, including grant preparation, training of personnel, help with design and coordination of experiments, data collection, extraction, and presentation for statistical analysis, and manuscript preparation. It also provides investigators with state-of-the-art equipment for characterizing animal models of human intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Investigators are involved integrally in both the design and conduct of the experiments. Services assist investigators in delineating the relationships between specific genetic conditions, environmental, chemical, or pharmacologic exposures or anatomical lesions and their behavioral sequelae and provide critical data for preclinical intervention trials to assess novel therapeutic targets.

The Mouse Behavior Laboratory

Much of the MBL is located in the CHDD Medical Research Tower. This is a suite of three connected rooms (250 sq ft in total) that can be isolated from each other to accommodate concurrent experiments on three different pieces of apparatus. One room, approved for long term housing of up to 36 cages, contains the PhenoLab equipment. The other two rooms house computers, cameras that are controlled using Noldus Ethovision XT software, and a Noldus Catwalk for assessment of gait. Three additional mouse behavior testing rooms (400 sq ft in total) with space for housing up to 21 cages for repeated testing are located on the fifth floor of HSB.

Steps for Initiating a New Project

For projects in the proposal development phase, as well as for approved projects, the MBL works with affiliates to provide scientific, management, and budgetary information. Funded grants also are reviewed to ensure strict compliance with IACUC standards, careful observance of the NIH Guide to the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, and compliance with accreditation standards set by AAALAC. For funded projects, access to Core services that are required for individual research projects is discussed with the investigators. Of note, all services described above are provided at no cost (e.g., training, consultation, coordination, testing equipment). Construction of highly specialized equipment, however, may require investigator support. The Department of Comparative Medicine does charge affiliates the decentralized per diem rate for housing mice in our testing facility.

Use of facilities is scheduled on a daily basis through an online calendar. Laboratory schedules that list the day-to-day research activity in the labs are also posted in the testing rooms.

Contact Information

Please contact either Sean P. Murphy, Ph.D. seanm6@uw.edu or Toby B. Cole, Ph.D., tobycole@uw.edu, 206-543-9300.

Mouse Behavior Laboratory Facility 206-221-7283

Behavioral Testing Capabilities

Note - behavioral testing typically requires a minimum of 10 mice per experimental group. Testing is highly sensitive to environmental influences, so steps to minimize environmental differences are critical. Tests available in the MBL include a large variety of cognitive and neuromotor behavioral assessments. Neurobehavioral domains capable of being assessed include activity/exploration, motor function, learning and memory, anxiety, sensory functions, neurological reflexes, and social behavior.

Activity monitoring in Noldus PhenoTyper Cages:

The MBL has 16 PhenoTyper cages, each consisting of a 30 cm x 30 cm cage with access to food, water and shelter, and with a top unit that is equipped with LED units and an IR camera. One mouse is placed into each cage, and they are left in the cage for as long as the experiment requires (up to 72-hr), while their activity is recorded with the Ethovision system. Because they have access to food and water, mice can be monitored during both the light and dark cycle, allowing determination of circadian patterns of activity. Optional running wheels and lickometers to measure intake of liquid (for use in trials of drug administered via drinking water) have recently been added.

Noldus Catwalk:

This equipment assesses footfalls and gait quantitatively. It consists of a corridor that directs and limits the freedom of movement of the mouse to a straight line across the walkway, where a special glass walking surface and high speed color camera record and analyze the gait. The mouse is placed at one end of the corridor, and walks to the other end, then is returned to its home cage. For motivation, it is useful to include a goal box at the end, consisting of a black shelter with room for a home cage underneath, or to provide an appetizing edible treat.

Videotracking with Noldus EthoVision:

The MBL has three videotracking systems with cameras and EthoVision tracking software, two for use with desktop computers, with capability for multiple-animal tracking, and one for use with a laptop computer. All three systems are capable of either live tracking or tracking animals in recorded video files. These systems provide a high degree of flexibility, and can be used with a large variety of arenas and mazes, including the T-maze, elevated-plus maze, Morris water maze, radial-arm maze, light-dark boxes, open field boxes, contextual fear conditioning arenas, and social approach / novel object chambers.

Coulbourn Instruments HABITEST System:

A Coulbourn Instruments HABITEST modular cage system was recently purchased for performing operant conditioning with light or sound cues in conjunction with pellet dispensers, as well as controlling arenas and shuttle boxes used for passive and active avoidance, light/dark tests, or contextual / cued fear conditioning. This system has five modular arenas, and two shuttle boxes with shock floors that can be used either as stand-alone units or in conjunction with the HABITEST LabLinc controller and sound-attenuating enclosures.

Noldus UltraVox:

The Noldus UltraVox system is used for measuring, recording and playing back ultrasonic vocalizations (USV), as a way to assess communication among mice. The system is comprised of 4 ultrasound-detection microphones, audio filters, and UltraVox software run on a laptop computer for portability. USV that are induced by isolation or by social interactions can be used as measures of communication deficits in mouse models of neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism, or to examine effects of neurotoxicants on social behaviors.

Focal Deficits panel:

This panel scores mice on six specific measures of motor function: body symmetry, front limb symmetry, gait, circling behavior (on an open benchtop), compulsory circling, climbing on an inclined plane, and whisker response.

Grid test:

Mice are placed on an elevated grid surface (30 L x 35 W x 31 H cm) and the number of foot-faults made by the ipsilateral and contralateral limbs are counted. Each test consists of three trials lasting 1 min each, with an inter-trial interval of 1 min. Foot faults are expressed as the number of errors made by the contralateral limbs as a percentage of the total errors made.

Corner test:

The corner test detects a combination of mild-to-moderate focal ischemia-induced symmetries, including sensory to the vibrissae, fore- and hind-limb use, and postural motor function. The mouse is placed between two boards (30 x 20 x 1 cm), with the edges attached at a 30 degree angle and a small opening along the joint to encourage entry into the corner. The mouse then rears forward and up, and turns back to face the open end. Normal mice turn either left or right. The turns in one vs. the other direction are recorded from 20 trials for each test.

Elevated-plus maze:

The elevated-plus maze measures anxiety, exploration and activity levels in mice by taking advantage of the innate tendency of mice to avoid open and elevated areas. The maze consists of a central square (5 x 5 cm), from which radiate four arms (5 x 30 cm). Two of the arms have plexiglass walls (15 cm high) around the edge (closed arms), whereas the other two arms do not have walls (open arms), but do have a 0.25 cm-high edge to prevent the mice from falling from the maze. The maze is elevated 45 cm above the floor. A videotracking system is used to measure entries and duration in the center, open arms, and closed arms. The test can be performed in the light or dark cycle. Mice are placed in the central square of the apparatus, facing an open arm. Mice are allowed to explore the apparatus for 5 min while data are being collected. Data collected include line crosses, rears, head dips, grooming, stretch attend postures, urination puddles, fecal boli, closed-arm entries and duration, open-arm entries and duration, center entries and duration.

T-maze (non-elevated):

Mice are allowed to alternate spontaneously between the left and right goal arms (30 x 10 cm) of a T-shaped maze (start alley 30 x 10 cm) throughout a 15-trial session. Once a subject has entered a particular goal arm, a door is lowered quietly to block entry to the opposite arm. The door is re-opened after 30 sec when the mouse is returned to the start arm and allowed to choose between the goal arms. Each trial takes about 2 min. The spontaneous alternation rate is calculated as the ratio between the alternating choices and total number of choices. If necessary for motivation, "rewarded alternation" may be used, in which the mouse is made hungry by 12-hr food deprivation and is then rewarded with a preferred food if it alternates.

T-maze (elevated):

The test is performed identically to the non-elevated version, except that the maze is elevated 30-cm above floor level, and low walls (1 cm) made of clear plastic are used instead of high walls.

The additional testing rooms have a Morris Water Maze, water and land versions of the 8-arm radial maze, a San Diego Instruments two-chamber startle and pre-pulse inhibition system, digital force gauges for measuring grip strength, and a five-station rotarod for measuring motor coordination and cerebellar learning.


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University of Washington • Center on Human Development and Disability Box 357920 • Seattle WA 98195-7920 USA • 206-543-7701 • chdd@uw.edu