We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

The Face of a Mouse in Pain

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskeptic
By Neuroskeptic
Jun 14, 2010 4:57 PMNov 5, 2019 12:19 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Have you ever wanted to know whether a mouse is in pain?

Of course you have. And now you can, thanks to Langford et al's paper Coding of facial expressions of pain in the laboratory mouse.

It turns out that mice, just like people, display a distinctive "Ouch!" facial expression when they're suffering acute pain. It consists of narrowing of the eyes, bulging nose and cheeks, ears pulled back, and whiskers either pulled back or forwards.

With the help of a high-definition video camera and a little training, you can reliably and accurately tell how much pain a mouse is feeling. It works for most kinds of mouse pain, although it's not seen in either extremely brief or very long-term pain.

Langford et al tried it out on mice with a certain genetic mutation, which causes severe migraines in humans. These mice displayed the pain face even in the absence of external painful stimuli, showing that they were suffering internally. A migraine drug was able to stop the pain.

Finally, lesions to a part of the brain called the anterior insula stopped mice from expressing their pain. This is exactly what happens in people as well, suggesting that our displays of suffering are an evolutionary ancient mechanism. Of course this kind of study can't prove that animals consciously feel pain in the same way that we do, but I see no reason to doubt it: we feel pain as a result of neural activity, and mammals have exactly the same brain systems.

Langford, D., Bailey, A., Chanda, M., Clarke, S., Drummond, T., Echols, S., Glick, S., Ingrao, J., Klassen-Ross, T., LaCroix-Fralish, M., Matsumiya, L., Sorge, R., Sotocinal, S., Tabaka, J., Wong, D., van den Maagdenberg, A., Ferrari, M., Craig, K., & Mogil, J. (2010). Coding of facial expressions of pain in the laboratory mouse Nature Methods, 7 (6), 447-449 DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.1455

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.