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Article

Additional Assessment of Fecal Corticosterone Metabolites Improves Visual Rating in the Evaluation of Stress Responses of Laboratory Rats

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Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-2), Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, 52425 Jülich, Germany
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Central Animal Facility (ZT), Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, 52425 Jülich, Germany
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Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Hospital Bonn, 53105 Bonn, Germany
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Department of Behavioural Biology, University of Osnabrück, 49076 Osnabrück, Germany
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Unit of Physiology, Pathophysiology, and Experimental Endocrinology, Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, 1210 Vienna, Austria
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Neurological Department, Medical Faculty, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, 40225 Düsseldorf, Germany
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Lars Lewejohann
Animals 2021, 11(3), 710; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11030710
Received: 15 January 2021 / Revised: 26 February 2021 / Accepted: 2 March 2021 / Published: 5 March 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Welfare of Laboratory Animals)
Assessment of animal welfare is an important aspect of preclinical studies to minimize suffering and burden and to improve scientific data. In a standard preclinical setup, such an assessment is normally done via so-called score sheets, which are part of the official documentation and approval of a preclinical study. These score sheets contain different categories, including objective parameters such as animals’ body weight, as well as more subjective criteria such as general status, behavior, and appearance, by which the animal is assessed and given a score reflecting the burden. However, very little is known about whether this mainly visual-based and subjective evaluation of the animals’ welfare reliably reflects the status of the animal and correlates well with more objective parameters used for assessment of animal welfare. To this end, the current study investigates the concordance of parameters obtained via standardized score sheets and fecal corticosterone metabolites in a preclinical neuroscientific setup. Determination of fecal corticosterone metabolites as response parameter of adrenocortical activity is thereby a well-validated parameter often used to determine animals’ stress levels. Our data reveal that specific but subjective scores did not mirror the stress response assessed via fecal corticosterone metabolites in the same animals.
Since animal experiments cannot be completely avoided, the pain, suffering, and distress of laboratory animals must be minimized. To this end, a major prerequisite is reliable assessment of pain and distress. Usually, evaluation of animal welfare is done by visual inspection and score sheets. However, relatively little is known about whether standardized, but subjective, score sheets are able to reliably reflect the status of the animals. The current study aimed to compare visual assessment scores and changes in body weight with concentrations of fecal corticosterone metabolites (FCMs) in a neuroscientific experimental setup. Additionally, effects of refinement procedures were investigated. Eight male adult Sprague-Dawley rats underwent several experimental interventions, including electroencephalograph electrode implantation and subsequent recording, positron emission tomography (PET), and sleep deprivation (SD) by motorized activity wheels. Additional 16 rats were either used as controls without any treatment or to evaluate refinement strategies. Stress responses were determined on a daily basis by means of measuring FCMs, body weight, and evaluation of the animals’ welfare by standardized score sheets. Surgery provoked a significant elevation of FCM levels for up to five days. Increases in FCMs due to PET procedures or SD in activity wheels were also highly significant, while visual assessment scores did not indicate elevated stress levels and body weights remained constant. Visual assessment scores correlate with neither changes in body weight nor increases in FCM levels. Habituation procedures to activity wheels used for SD had no impact on corticosterone release. Our results revealed that actual score sheets for visual assessment of animal welfare did not mirror physiological stress responses assessed by FCM measurements. Moreover, small changes in body weight did not correlate with FCM concentration either. In conclusion, as visual assessment is a method allowing immediate interventions on suffering animals to alleviate burden, timely stress assessment in experimental rodents via score sheets should be ideally complemented by validated objective measures (e.g., fecal FCM measured by well-established assays for reliable detection of FCMs). This will complete a comprehensive appraisal of the animals’ welfare status in a retrospective manner and refine stressor procedures in the long run. View Full-Text
Keywords: animal welfare assessment; score sheets; fecal glucocorticoid metabolites animal welfare assessment; score sheets; fecal glucocorticoid metabolites
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MDPI and ACS Style

Kroll, T.; Kornadt-Beck, N.; Oskamp, A.; Elmenhorst, D.; Touma, C.; Palme, R.; Bauer, A. Additional Assessment of Fecal Corticosterone Metabolites Improves Visual Rating in the Evaluation of Stress Responses of Laboratory Rats. Animals 2021, 11, 710. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11030710

AMA Style

Kroll T, Kornadt-Beck N, Oskamp A, Elmenhorst D, Touma C, Palme R, Bauer A. Additional Assessment of Fecal Corticosterone Metabolites Improves Visual Rating in the Evaluation of Stress Responses of Laboratory Rats. Animals. 2021; 11(3):710. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11030710

Chicago/Turabian Style

Kroll, Tina, Nikola Kornadt-Beck, Angela Oskamp, David Elmenhorst, Chadi Touma, Rupert Palme, and Andreas Bauer. 2021. "Additional Assessment of Fecal Corticosterone Metabolites Improves Visual Rating in the Evaluation of Stress Responses of Laboratory Rats" Animals 11, no. 3: 710. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11030710

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