U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Behavioural Brain Research 432 (2022) 113978



U.S. government work


Although rodents have represented the most intensely studied animals in neurobiological investigations for more than a century, few studies have systematically compared neural and endocrine differences between wild rodents in their natural habitats and laboratory strains raised in traditional laboratory environments. In the current study, male and female Rattus norvegicus rats were trapped in an urban setting and compared to weight-and sex-matched conspecifics living in standard laboratory housing conditions. Brains were extracted for neural assessments and fecal boli were collected for endocrine [corticosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)] assays. Additionally, given their role in immune and stress functions, spleen and adrenal weights were recorded. A separate set of wild rats was trapped at a dairy farm and held in captivity for one month prior to assessments; in these animals, brains were processed but no hormone data were available. The results indicated that wild-trapped rats exhibited 31% heavier brains, including higher densities of cerebellar neurons and glial cells in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. The wild rats also had approximately 300% greater spleen and adrenal weights, and more than a six-fold increase in corticosterone levels than observed in laboratory rats. Further research on neurobiological variables in wild vs. lab animals will inform the extensive neurobiological knowledge base derived from laboratory investigations using selectively bred rodents in laboratory environments, knowledge that will enhance the translational value of preclinical laboratory rodent studies.