Locomotor effects of a low-frequency fire alarm on C57BL/6 male mice: a preliminary study

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Maintaining appropriate acoustic conditions for animal welfare and data collection are crucial in biomedical research facilities. Negative impacts of disruptive sound are known and can include auditory damage, immune function changes, and behavioral alterations. One type of disruptive sound occurring in research facilities is that of fire alarms. To ameliorate this problem, many facilities have incorporated the use of low-frequency fire alarms that emit tones outside the rodent audible range. The impact of these devices has been assumed to be negligible. However, this has yet to be evaluated with controlled behavioral experiments. Thus, our objective was to investigate the impact of low-frequency fire alarm exposure on locomotor behavior in the open field, a test sensitive to acoustic stimuli disruption. Male mice were randomized to three alarm exposure groups (No-Alarm; Alarm-During; and Alarm-After) and placed in individual photobeam-activated locomotor chambers. The Alarm-During group displayed significantly reduced horizontal locomotion, with a trend towards reduced vertical locomotion. These data suggest that a low-frequency brief alarm tone can temporarily disrupt movement, a valuable insight should an alarm be deployed. Further, findings support close collaboration between researchers and institutional facility staff to ensure appropriate acoustic conditions are maintained, whenever possible, for research animals.