Litter size predicts adult stereotypic behavior in female laboratory mice.
Stereotypic behaviors are repetitive invariant behaviors that are common in many captive species and potentially indicate compromised welfare and suitability as research subjects. Adult laboratory mice commonly perform stereotypic bar-gnawing, route-tracing, and back-flipping, although great individual variation in frequency occurs. Early life factors (for example, level of maternal care received) have lasting effects on CNS functioning and abilities to cope with stress and therefore may also affect stereotypic behavior in offspring. Access to maternal resources and care are influenced by the number of pups in a litter; therefore, we examined both litter size and its potential correlate, weight at weaning, as early environmental predictors of adult stereotypic behavior in laboratory mice. Further, we assessed the effects on offspring stereotypic behavior of delaying the separation of mother and pups (weaning) beyond the standard 21 d of age. Analyzing stereotypic behavior in 3 different mouse colonies composed of 2 inbred strains (C57BL/6N and C57BL/6J) and an outbred stock (CD1[ICR]) revealed significant positive correlation between litter size and stereotypic behavior in female, but not male, mice. Weight and age at weaning did not significantly affect levels of stereotypy in either sex. Litter size therefore may be a useful indicator of individual predisposition to stereotypic behavior in female laboratory mice.