We study the effect of hypothermia (HT) following hypoxic-ischemic (HI) brain injury in postnatal day 7 (P7) rats. In 2015, new European Union animal transport regulations prompted a change in practice at the breeding facility, which henceforth crossfostered P3 litters to P8 older lactating dam prior to transportation. It is generally assumed that crossfostering does not significantly affect the experimental results. The aim of this study was to examine whether crossfostering affects our model consistency by modifying injury susceptibility and hypothermic neuroprotection. We analysed 219 pups (56 litters) from 11 experiments conducted between 2013 and 2015: 73 non-crossfostered and 146 crossfostered pups. At P7, all pups underwent unilateral common carotid artery ligation followed by 50min of hypoxia (8% O2, 36°C). Immediately after this mild insult, the pups were randomised to post-insult normothermia (NT) or HT treatment. Pups were culled at P14. Injury was assessed by area loss of the ipsilateral hemisphere and histopathology scoring of hippocampus, cortex, thalamus, and basal ganglia. Crossfostered pups had double the injury compared to non-crossfostered pups irrespective of treatment group. Hypothermic neuroprotection was statistically significant, but with a smaller and less consistent effect in crossfostered pups (relative neuroprotection 16% vs. 31% in non-crossfostered). These results demonstrate hypothermic neuroprotection following a mild HI insult. A representative subset of 41 animals were also assessed for evidence of microglial reactivity, however no detectable difference in microglial reactivity was observed between any of the groups. In conclusion, crossfostering alters outcomes in our established model through reduced insult tolerance and variable neuroprotection. Crossfostering as a common breeding practice is a largely unexplored variable in animal research that may result in invalid research conclusions if inadequately adjusted for by larger group sizes. As a result, crossfostering is likely to be inconsistent with the principles of replacement, reduction, and refinement.The Author(s). Published by S. Karger AG, Basel.
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