Implementation of automated behavior metrics to evaluate voluntary wheel running effects on inflammatory-erosive arthritis and interstitial lung disease in TNF-Tg mice

Arthritis Res Ther. 2023 Feb 2;25(1):17. doi: 10.1186/s13075-022-02985-6.


Background: Although treatment options and algorithms for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have improved remarkably in recent decades, there continues to be no definitive cure or pharmacologic intervention with reliable long-term efficacy. For this reason, the combination of medications and healthy lifestyle modifications are essential for controlling joint disease, and extra-articular manifestations of RA, such as interstitial lung disease (ILD) and other lung pathologies, which greatly impact morbidity and mortality. Generally, exercise has been deemed beneficial in RA patients, and both patients and clinicians are motivated to incorporate effective non-pharmacologic interventions. However, there are limited evidence-based and specific exercise regimens available to support engagement in such activities for RA patients. Here, we provided the continuous opportunity for exercise to mice and implemented automated recording and quantification of wheel running behavior. This allowed us to describe the associated effects on the progression of inflammatory-erosive arthritis and ILD in the tumor necrosis factor transgenic (TNF-Tg) mouse model of RA.

Methods: Wild-type (WT; males, n=9; females, n=9) and TNF-Tg (males, n=12; females, n=14) mice were singly housed with free access to a running wheel starting at 2 months until 5 to 5.5 months of age. Measures of running included distance, rate, length, and number of run bouts, which were derived from continuously recorded data streams collected automatically and in real-time. In vivo lung, ankle, and knee micro-computed tomography (micro-CT), along with terminal micro-CT and histology were performed to examine the association of running behaviors and disease progression relative to sedentary controls.

Results: TNF-Tg males and females exhibited significantly reduced running distance, rate, length, and number of run bouts compared to WT counterparts by 5 months of age (p<0.0001). Compared to sedentary controls, running males and females showed increased aerated lung volumes (p<0.05) that were positively correlated with running distance and rate in female mice (WT: Distance, ρ=0.705/rate, ρ=0.693 (p<0.01); TNF-Tg: ρ=0.380 (p=0.06)/ρ=0.403 (p<0.05)). Talus bone volumes were significantly reduced in running versus sedentary males and negatively correlated with running distance and rate in TNF-Tg mice (male: ρ=-903/ρ=-0.865; female: ρ=-0.614/ρ=-0.594 (p<0.001)). Histopathology validated the lung and ankle micro-CT findings.

Conclusions: Implementation of automated wheel running behavior metrics allows for evaluation of longitudinal activity modifications hands-off and in real-time to relate with biomarkers of disease severity. Through such analysis, we determined that wheel running activity increases aerated lung volumes, but exacerbates inflammatory-erosive arthritis in TNF-Tg mice. To the end of a clinically relevant model, additional functional assessment of these outcomes and studies of pain behavior are warranted.

Keywords: Arthritis; Exercise; Inflammation; Lung; Micro-CT; Mouse model; Running.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid*
  • Female
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Motor Activity
  • Tumor Necrosis Factors / metabolism
  • X-Ray Microtomography


  • Tumor Necrosis Factors