A refinement to the formalin test in mice

Douglas M. Lopes, Heather L. Cater, Matthew Thakur, Sara Wells, Stephen B. McMahon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


The constant refinement of tests used in animal research is crucial for the scientific community. This is particularly true for the field of pain research, where ethical standards are notably sensitive. The formalin test is widely used in pain research and some of its mechanisms resemble those underlying clinical pain in humans. Immediately upon injection, formalin triggers two waves (an early and a late phase) of strong, nociceptive behaviour, characterised by licking, biting, lifting and shaking the injected paw of the animal. Although well characterised at the behaviour level, since its proposal over four decades ago, there has not been any significant refinement to the formalin test, especially those combining minimisation of animal distress and preservation of behavioural outcomes of the test.  Here, we propose a modified and improved method for the formalin test. We show that anaesthetising the animal with the inhalable anaesthetic sevoflurane at the time of the injection can produce reliable, robust and reproducible results whilst animal distress during the initial phase is reduced. Importantly, our results were validated by pharmacological suppression of the behaviour during the late phase of the test with gabapentin, the anaesthetic showing no interference with the drug. In addition, we demonstrate that this is also a useful method to screen for changes in pain behaviour in response to formalin in transgenic lines.

Original languageEnglish
Article number891
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • 3Rs
  • Behaviour
  • Formalin
  • Nociception
  • Pain
  • Refinement

Cite this