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Home No. 16: Are Sentinel Mice Really Needed in My Lab?

Jul 26

No. 16: Are Sentinel Mice Really Needed in My Lab?

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Animal Health

Are Sentinel Mice Really Needed in My Lab?

Reader Question: Why does the animal facility insist on putting sentinel mice in my mice rooms? How useful or important is this?

Expert comments: The fact that your research-facility leaders are using sentinel mice shows they are interested in keeping your mice healthy.

Sentinel mice are placed with research mice as a way to detect the presence of viruses or other pathogens that might affect your research. Depending on what type of research you do and the original health status of the mice you purchase, the introduction of murine viruses into your colony could be devastating to your research.

In some cases, when mice are used quickly, there may not be enough time for them to develop antibodies to viruses, and thus in that instance little value in the use of sentinels.

In most cases, though, sentinel mice are young, healthy, and capable of mounting a normal immune response to viruses. They are tested to be free of the agents that you are trying to exclude from your colony. Caretakers mix bedding from experimental animals into the sentinel-animal cages. Viruses and bacteria that are transmitted by the fecal-oral route will be transmitted to the sentinel animals. After an appropriate period, the sentinel mice can be bled and tested for antibodies to viruses, or tested for bacteria by culture or PCR (polymerase chain reaction).

Common viral diseases of mice, such as mouse parvovirus, mouse norovirus, and mouse hepatitis virus, are three examples of murine pathogens that may be excluded from your facility by sentinel testing.

Most lab-animal veterinarians will gladly explain the specific sentinel program in place at their institution. Please speak with your veterinarian to learn the details of the sentinel program established for your mice. The sentinel program is one of many ways animal facilities work to protect the quality of research programs.

Expert comments by Mary B. Sauer, VMD, Dipl. ACLAM, attending veterinarian, Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, Iowa State University.

Comments (1)
written by David E. Harrison, July 29, 2010
I agree with Dr Sauer that sentinel mice and careful tests are absolutely essential, and any facility without them is not to be trusted.
There is a solution to the problem that sentinel mice are young and healthy (I believe this was developed by Dr David Myers when he was in charge of animal health at the Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine).
House immune deficient mice with normal cagemates in sentinel locations (low in the racks, near air intakes etc).
If the immune deficient animal becomes ill, autopsy it and culture its tissues to determine the problem. Then use the normal cagemate for serology.
If the immune deficient animal never becomes ill, you have a clean animal room, but still use the normal cagemate for serological testing.
The idea here is that the immune deficient mouse will catch any pathogen, and expose and re-expose its normal cagemate to build up strong serological results.

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