Effect of Cage-Induced Stereotypies on Measures of Affective State and Recurrent Perseveration in CD-1 and C57BL/6 Mice

Stereotypies are abnormal repetitive behaviour patterns that are highly prevalent in laboratory mice and are thought to reflect impaired welfare. Thus, they are associated with impaired behavioural inhibition and may also reflect negative affective states. However, in mice the relationship between stereotypies and behavioural inhibition is inconclusive, and reliable measures of affective valence are lacking. Here we used an exploration based task to assess cognitive bias as a measure of affective valence and a two-choice guessing task to assess recurrent perseveration as a measure of impaired behavioural inhibition to test mice with different forms and expression levels of stereotypic behaviour. We trained 44 CD-1 and 40 C57BL/6 female mice to discriminate between positively and negatively cued arms in a radial maze and tested their responses to previously inaccessible ambiguous arms. In CD-1 mice (i) mice with higher stereotypy levels displayed a negative cognitive bias and this was influenced by the form of stereotypy performed, (ii) negative cognitive bias was evident in back-flipping mice, and (iii) no such effect was found in mice displaying bar-mouthing or cage-top twirling. In C57BL/6 mice neither route-tracing nor bar-mouthing was associated with cognitive bias, indicating that in this strain these stereotypies may not reflect negative affective states. Conversely, while we found no relation of stereotypy to recurrent perseveration in CD-1 mice, C57BL/6 mice with higher levels of route-tracing, but not bar-mouthing, made more repetitive responses in the guessing task. Our findings confirm previous research indicating that the implications of stereotypies for animal welfare may strongly depend on the species and strain of animal as well as on the form and expression level of the stereotypy. Furthermore, they indicate that variation in stereotypic behaviour may represent an important source of variation in many animal experiments.