Congratulations to Lindsey Kitchenham on her MSc defence: The neurobiology of environmentally induced stereotypic behaviours in barren versus enriched housed laboratory mice (Mus musculus)
Congrats to Lindsey Kitchenham on a successful MSc defence! Read the abstract for her work and thesis.
Lindsay’s research is aimed at understanding the neurobiological correlates of cage-induced stereotypic behaviours. Stereotypic behaviours (repetitive, apparently functionless movements like pacing, head-bobbing and backflipping) are common in captive zoo, farm, and laboratory animals. Often observed in barren environments, these behaviours are thought to indicate poor welfare. It is widely considered that such behaviours are a product of abnormal central nervous system development and functioning, but the precise nature of this is unknown.
Lindsey examined the relationship between barren (standard laboratory housing conditions) versus enriched housing on stereotypic behaviour severity/type. She focused on neuronal activity in the basal ganglia which is the brain’s “action selection system” and the prefrontal cortex that exerts top-down control over this system.
Lindsey suspected that rearing in barren environments weakens prefrontal control of basal ganglia (BG) functioning thus disrupting behavioural flexibility (e.g. activation of appropriate and deactivation of inappropriate behaviours). If she found that standard housing conditions cause neurological pathology, her research would have practical implications for scientists who study "normal" behaviour and brain function (e.g. standard housed mice would not be an appropriate model) and ethical implications for laboratory mice (e.g. promoting advocacy for better housing conditions).
Overall, none of Lindsay’s BG Pathways hypotheses were supported. Thus, the neurobiological mechanism for mouse SBs remains unknown, and further research is important for understanding the impact of captivity on animals’ functioning, and whether stereotypic behaviours are a sign of pathology.