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I smell a rat!

Turns out the rat smells you, too. Rodent behavioral studies are a cornerstone in neuroscience, but these experiments are notoriously difficult to conduct and often their results cannot be independently reproduced. A new report in Nature Methods this week sheds light on a major confound that may explain some of this variability. The authors found that mice and rats are very sensitive to the cocktail of odors produced by males, including unfamiliar males of the same species as well as guinea pigs, cats, dogs, and even human investigators! The scent from T-shits worn by human men, but not women, was sufficient to significantly affect rodent behavior in multiple tests of pain and anxiety. The effects are thought to result from stress-induced analgesia, an innate response to predator and competitor odors. In accordance with this model, mice exposed to human males or their T-shirts had greatly elevated corticosterone levels, elevated body temperature, and induction of immediate-early genes in the pain-processing neurons of the spinal cord. The authors caution that these effects may extend beyond behavioral analyses and may impact the tissues obtained from live rodents euthanized by either male or female experimenters. Incredibly, this whole study was initiated based on the anecdotal reports from lab personnel that mice failed to show pain behaviors when certain (male) investigators were present during the experiment. You can read the full report here: http://www.nature.com/nmeth/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nmeth.2935.html


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