Breathing control center neurons that promote arousal in mice

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Science  31 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6332, pp. 1411-1415
DOI: 10.1126/science.aai7984

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  • Immobility in mice, calm or stressed?
    • Frances Cheng, Science Policy Advisor, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
    • Other Contributors:
      • Ingrid Taylor, Research Associate, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
      • Emily R. Trunnell, Research Associate, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

    This paper by Yackle, et al. claims to have found a link between breathing and calmness in mice. However, the conclusions made by the authors leave several critical questions unanswered.

    First, the chamber used to measure the animals’ behavior is extremely small and inadequate for observing mouse behavior and making conclusions about calmness or other emotions, particularly when the differences in behavior between the two mice being compared are very subtle, as they are here. In addition, simply being in a chamber of this size could potentially be restraining and stress-inducing.

    Second, mice are naturally inquisitive and the expression of exploratory behavior is generally interpreted as good welfare. Conversely, being motionless or less exploratory is typically thought to be indicative of stress, pain, or poor welfare. There is no established relationship between calmness and sitting still; in fact the literature would likely attribute time spent immobile to anxiety or distress in this species. Similarly, the relationship between grooming and calmness is not clear. Grooming can be elicited by both stressful and relaxing situations, and as such is problematic to use as an absolute marker of stress levels. In some cases, grooming can be a stress reliever and restraint stress can increase grooming (1).

    Third, the authors mention that they observe different breathing rates associated with different behaviors, e.g., faster during sniffing and slower durin...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.