clowning_around_graphicEither you are intrigued with the hysteria regarding clown sightings, or eager to learn the latest about the presidential election. In either case, please read on. Though clowns hope to make us laugh, they sometimes instill fear; fear and laughter, stress and joy, greatly affect our cardiovascular health. Many adults, moreover, are finding the presidential election in the United States entertaining, yet stressful.


Benoit Poisson from the University of Montreal provides a beautiful treatise on how the development of neurohormonal circuits underlies our basic emotions – stress, anger, sorrow and happiness (1). Emotions enable an individual to constantly modulate the cardiovascular system to the physical and social environment. Mouse Specifics, Inc. developed the ECGenie to study how neurohormonal circuits affect the modulation of the heart of laboratory animals, providing a window to study their emotions in models of human disorders. Whether lab mice experience emotions in the same manner of humans is debatable, but of course we know that mice in pain have elevated heart rate and reduced heart rate variability (HRV), reflecting the same response that humans have to unalleviated pain. Fearful mice also have elevated heart rate and lower HRV, just like people who find themselves on a turbulent airplane. Mice provided enrichment in their environments reduced heart rate and higher HRV, akin to humans enriched by a viewing a comical movie or listening to Debussy.

While the grimace scale for lab animals has been validated for pain assessment (2), a metric for “smiling” in “happy” lab animals has not yet been put forth. Laughing and weeping have profound affects on HRV (3). Heart rate variability increases, therefore, could serve as a surrogate marker for happiness in mice, as it is well established that interventions and agents that reduce pain and bring joy to humans increase HRV in animals. Angelman syndrome (AS), a neurodevelopmental disorder, is characterized by easily provoked smiling and laughter. Though pathological laughing or crying reflect complex aberrant neurobiological phenomena, it is interesting that Angelman patients have dysfunction in the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It might be interesting to monitor the heart of mice genetically modified to model AS. The ECGenie, for example, and companion EzCG analyses software, would report HRV in newborn UBE3A mutant mice, to see whether they too have aberrant ANS dysfunction.

Please visit our exhibit at SfN (booth 237) to learn how the ECGenie can provide new information about the cardiac and nervous systems in your animal models. Learn how the DigiGait Imaging System can describe motor function in your Angelman syndrome models or any other genetic disorders that affect the heart and nervous system of infants and children. Share with us some serious discussion about your research goals.

And we promise to bring out a smile!


1. Poisson, P; Systemic biopsychological perspective of basic emotions.
Sante Ment Que. 2015 Fall;40(3):223-44.
2. Leung V et al. Real-time application of the Rat Grimace Scale as a welfare refinement in laboratory rats. Sci Rep. 2016 ;6:31667.
3. Sakuragi S et al. . Effects of laughing and weeping on mood and heart rate variability. J Physiol Anthropol Appl Human Sci. 2002; 21:159-65.