Increasing the statistical power of animal experiments with historical control data

Nat Neurosci. 2021 Apr;24(4):470-477. doi: 10.1038/s41593-020-00792-3. Epub 2021 Feb 18.


Low statistical power reduces the reliability of animal research; yet, increasing sample sizes to increase statistical power is problematic for both ethical and practical reasons. We present an alternative solution using Bayesian priors based on historical control data, which capitalizes on the observation that control groups in general are expected to be similar to each other. In a simulation study, we show that including data from control groups of previous studies could halve the minimum sample size required to reach the canonical 80% power or increase power when using the same number of animals. We validated the approach on a dataset based on seven independent rodent studies on the cognitive effects of early-life adversity. We present an open-source tool, RePAIR, that can be widely used to apply this approach and increase statistical power, thereby improving the reliability of animal experiments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Experimentation*
  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Mice
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Research Design*
  • Sample Size*