Effects of increased spatial complexity on behavioural development and task performance in Lister Hooded rats

PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47640. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0047640. Epub 2012 Oct 16.


Enhancing laboratory animal welfare, particularly in rodents, has been achieved through environmental enrichment in caging systems. Traditional enrichment such as adding objects has shown to impact development, reproductive and maternal performance as well as cognition. However, effects of increased spatial complexity as part of larger novel caging systems have not been investigated. While adoption of caging systems with increased spatial complexity seems uncontroversial from a welfare perspective, effects of such housing on the development and task performance of experimental animals remains unclear. In this study, we investigate differences in key behaviours and cognitive performance between Lister Hooded rats housed in traditional (single-shelf) cages ('basic') and those housed in larger cages with an additional shelf ('enriched'). We found minor differences in maternal behaviour, such as nursing and offspring development. Further, we compared task performance in females, using a hippocampus-dependent task (T-maze) and a hippocampus-independent task (Novel Object Recognition, NOR). While in the T-maze no differences in either the rate of learning or probe trial performance were found, in the NOR task females housed in enriched cages performed better than those housed in basic cages. Our results show that increased spatial complexity does not significantly affect development and maternal performance but may enhance learning in females for a non-spatial task. Increased spatial complexity does not appear to have the same effects on behaviour and development as traditional enrichment. Thus, our results suggest no effect of housing conditions on the development of most behaviours in experimental animals housed in spatially enriched caging systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Growth Charts
  • Housing, Animal*
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior
  • Maze Learning
  • Rats
  • Task Performance and Analysis*

Grant support

This work was funded by a NERC Research Fellowship NE/F013418/1. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.