The estrous cycle provides a readout of reproductive health in female laboratory rodents, and estrous cycle stage can be an important physiological variable. Accurate assessment of estrous cycle stage is also important in producing timed pregnancies for developmental studies. Here, we provide a protocol for evaluation of estrous cycle stage through a minimally invasive procedure of acquiring cells lining the vaginal cavity and immediate microscopic visual assessment of these cells without drying or staining. When performed over several consecutive days, the pattern of progression through the four main stages of the estrous cycle, and disruptions to this pattern, can be determined. We also present software that enables more efficient cycle stage data analysis and pattern visualization. These protocols and tools will thus facilitate the incorporation of female animals in laboratory experiments and enhance the assessment of relationships between the reproductive cycle and overall physiology and behavior.
- Reproductive cycle