The Case for Female Mice in Neuroscience Research

Findings reveal female mice have more stable exploratory behavior than male mice

A puzzle piece with a female sign for a handle clicking into a puzzle
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Mice have long been a central part of neuroscience research, providing a flexible model that scientists can control and study to learn more about the intricate inner workings of the brain.

Historically, researchers have favored male mice over female mice in experiments, in part due to concern that the hormone cycle in females causes behavioral variation that could throw off results.

But new research from Harvard Medical School challenges this notion and suggests that for many experiments, the concern may not be justified.

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The study results, published March 7 in Current Biology, reveal that female mice, despite ongoing hormonal fluctuations, exhibit exploratory behavior that is more stable than that of their male peers.

Using a strain of mice commonly studied in lab settings, the researchers analyzed how the animals behaved as they freely explored an open space. They found that the hormone cycle had a negligible effect on behavior and that differences in behavior between individual female mice were much greater. Moreover, differences in behavior were even greater for males than for females, both within and between mice.