Assessment of Circadian and Light‐Entrainable Parameters in Mice Using Wheel‐Running Activity

Gareth T. Banks1, Patrick M. Nolan1

1 Neurobehavioural Genetics, MRC Harwell, Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Mouse Biology
Unit Number:   
DOI:  10.1002/9780470942390.mo110123
Online Posting Date:  September, 2011
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In most organisms, physiological variables are regulated by an internal clock. This endogenous circadian (∼24‐hr) clock enables organisms to anticipate daily environmental changes and modify behavioral and physiological functions appropriately. Processes regulated by the circadian clock include sleep‐wake and locomotor activity, core body temperature, metabolism, water/food intake, and available hormone levels. At the core of the mammalian circadian system are molecular oscillations within the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus. These oscillations are modifiable by signals from the environment (so called zeitgebers or time‐givers) and, once integrated within the suprachiasmatic nucleus, are conveyed to remote neural circuits where output rhythms are regulated. Disrupting any of a number of neural processes can affect how rhythms are generated and relayed to the periphery and disturbances in circadian/entrainment parameters are associated with numerous human conditions. These non‐invasive protocols can be used to determine whether circadian/entrainment parameters are affected in mouse mutants or treatment groups. Curr. Protoc. Mouse Biol. 1:369‐381 © 2011 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Keywords: circadian; light entrainment; period; phase; amplitude; constant conditions

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Strategic Planning
  • Basic Protocol 1: Circadian Activity in Light/Dark Cycles and Constant Conditions
  • Support Protocol 1: Masking and Phase Shifting
  • Support Protocol 2: T‐Cycles and Reentrainment
  • Commentary
  • Literature Cited
  • Figures
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Basic Protocol 1: Circadian Activity in Light/Dark Cycles and Constant Conditions

  • Mice (unless chambers being used are equipped with individually ventilated cages, IVC, all animals should be same sex; young adult mice between 8 and 20 weeks; cohorts of at least ten mice per genotype or treatment group)
  • Cages with running wheels, bedding, but no other environmental enrichment (running wheels equipped with system to quantify number of revolutions, e.g., available from;;; http://www.tse‐; or alternatively, use microswitches or magnets to custom make activity monitoring running wheels for any standard home cage (Jud et al., ; Siepka and Takahashi, ), individual microswitches are connected to a data‐collection computer via cabling connected to data acquisition boards
  • Circadian light‐tight chambers (see Strategic Planning; light set at ∼150 lux and estimated using a lux meter; air flow, temperature, and humidity maintained according to institutional recommendations)
  • Dedicated room for housing circadian monitoring system (a set of double doors useful to prevent light from accidentally entering circadian chambers during cage checking; cover all potential light sources within the room, e.g., power monitor lights, with light‐proof tape; cover overhead lighting with light filters, e.g., Kodak no. 11, to check mice daily in darkness without using infra‐red goggles)
  • Data collection computer and software to record wheel running activity (e.g., ClockLab,; VitalView,; The Chronobiology Kit,; or Med Associates SOF‐860,‐
  • Data collection hardware (National Instruments, cat. no. PCI‐6023E)
  • Data analysis computer (e.g., for ClockLab, an additional license for MATLAB software, The Mathworks, is required for data analysis; upload of data to the data analysis computer is automated to occur every 2 hr)
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Literature Cited

Literature Cited
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