by Ashley Mooney

What is the best method to test anxiety in mice? I spent my summer at home in Portland, Ore. figuring out just that.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder, but only about a third of those people are receiving treatment. In order to develop better medications, we wanted to understand the mechanism by which injuries—such as traumatic brain injury—lead to anxiety disorders.

The "guillotine" I helped build to model traumatic brain injury in mice

The lab was using six tests on mice, including the elevated plus maze, acoustic startle response and  the “hyponeophagia test”—which examined how long it took a mouse to consume a new food.  My boss, a postdoctoral researcher, ran a series of correlations on test results to find that some are not as effective in testing anxiety as scientific journals say they are.

I helped build two of the other tests that were new to the lab. One of them was a guillotine of sorts to test traumatic brain injury. While the guillotine does not do anything gruesome to the mice, it does give them a minor concussion to model the type of injury that many people experience in sports, car accidents and other mishaps.

We were looking at whether traumatic brain injury increases your chance of developing anxiety. To do this, we conditioned 80 mice and put them through mazes before and after knocking them on the head.

Although the mice kept me pretty busy, the head veterinarian of the research institute allowed me to shadow him in the mornings and help out with the pigs and rodents.

And a lesson from all of my maze-building experiences: chloroform is useful for more than knocking people unconscious—one can use it to bind plastic together and create a plethora of fun experiments for mice to run around.