When kept in barren and restrictive cages, animals frequently develop stereotypic behaviour patterns that are characterized by high repetition rates, conspicuous invariance and an apparent lack of function. Although millions of animals are affected, the underlying causes and mechanisms are still unclear. Growing evidence suggests that cage-induced stereotypies may reflect pathological dysfunction within basal ganglia circuitry expressed by perseverative behaviour. In order to assess whether variation in stereotypy performance and variation in perseverative behaviour may have a common cause in ICR CD-1 mice, we assessed the effects of environmental enrichment on both phenomena. We raised 48 female ICR CD-1 mice in standard or enriched cages from three weeks to either 6 or 11 months of age and measured stereotypy level in the home cage and perseveration on an extinction task. We further examined whether enriched rearing conditions (early enrichment) protect mice from the developing stereotypies later in life and whether stereotypies developed in barren cages would persist in an enriched environment (late enrichment) by transferring standard mice to enriched cages and vice versa for 14 weeks after completion of the extinction task. We found no evidence for a causal relation between stereotypy and perseveration in mice. However, transfer to enriched cages reduced stereotypy levels significantly both at 6 and 11 months of age indicating that stereotypies had not become established yet. Finally, we found that removing enrichments at both ages did not induce higher stereotypy levels, thereby confirming earlier reports of a neuroprotective effect of early enrichment.
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