• Open Access

Are mice calorically restricted in nature?


Steven N. Austad, Department of Biological Sciences, PO Box 3051, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844–3051, USA. Tel.: +1 208 885 6598; fax: +1 208 8857905; e-mail: austad@uidaho.edu
E-mail for D. M. Kristan: kristand@uidaho.edu


An important question about traditional caloric restriction (CR) experiments on laboratory mice is how food intake in the laboratory compares with that of wild mice in nature. Such knowledge would allow us to distinguish between two opposing views of the anti-aging effect of CR – whether CR represents, in laboratory animals, a return to a more normal level of food intake, compared with excess food consumption typical of laboratory conditions or whether CR represents restriction below that of animals living in nature, i.e. the conditions under which house mice evolved. To address this issue, we compared energy use of three mouse genotypes: (1) laboratory-selected mouse strains (= laboratory mice), (2) house mice that were four generations or fewer removed from the wild (= wild-derived mice) and (3) mice living in nature (= wild mice). We found, after correcting for body mass, that ad libitum fed laboratory mice eat no more than wild mice. In fact, under demanding natural conditions, wild mice eat even more than ad libitum fed laboratory mice. Laboratory mice do, however, eat more than wild-derived mice housed in similar captive conditions. Therefore, laboratory mice have been selected during the course of domestication for increased food intake compared with captive wild mice, but they are not particularly gluttonous compared with wild mice in nature. We conclude that CR experiments do in fact restrict energy consumption beyond that typically experienced by mice in nature. Therefore, the retarded aging observed with CR is not due to eliminating the detrimental effects of overeating.