UBC Experiments on Cats Factsheet


RESEARCH AREA: Neuroscience (specifically neuropharmacology, neurophysiology, sleep & sleep disorders, pain & pain-sleep interactions, sensorimotor processing & modulation, and spinal cord-brainstem interactions)1


UBC RESEARCHER: Dr. Peter John Soja (Professor, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences)

Dr. Soja has been experimenting on cats since at least 1980, with approximately 30 primary research articles using cats (and a few on rats) to examine the neural networks involved in sleep, pain and anesthesia. He started working on cats as part of his Master’s thesis which then extended to his Doctoral degree, Postdoctoral work, and now to his research program as a Faculty member in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UBC. From the freely accessible reports of his research, at least 160 cats were subjected to very invasive surgical procedures by his research program. This is most certainly an underestimate, since these numbers do not include the cats that died during surgery and for which data could not be collected. His work on cats is likely ongoing, as he has received a grant until 2013 from the government organization CIHR to fund his research. The abstract describing the research in his latest grant describes utilizing “a chronically instrumented animal preparation”2 and does not specify the animal species. However, his “chronically instrumented animal preparation” used for his work for the last 20 years has been the cat. He is also one of three researchers having received a group grant from NSERC and CIHR.3 From the grant title: “Biocompatible, flexible microelectrode array for chronic applications” it is apparent that this money is going to fund the development of new electrodes to implant for animal research.

Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) from 2008-2013 for $327 3962
Collaborative Health Research Project Grant from NSERC and CIHR in 2009 for 3 years at $207 2503
National Institute of Health (NIH) Grants
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Grants
BC Neurotrauma Foundation

P. Soja uses what he describes in his latest article as “chronically instrumented intact cat preparations”4 for his research. These are cats that have been permanently implanted with electrodes and restraining devices for their head and spine to study the spinal neurons without the use of anaesthetic drugs. P. Soja has used this cat model for nearly all his studies in the past and is continuing to do so.

Table 1. Summary of studies by Soja just since 2000 using “chronically instrumented intact cat preparations”
(surgical procedures described below):

Research article Cats used*
Taepavarapruk et al. 2008. J. Neurophysiol. 100: 598-608 3
Taepavarapruk et al. 2004. J. Neurophysiol. 92: 1479-1490 3
Taepavarapruk, McErlane, and Soja. 2002. J. Neurosci. 22: 5777-5788 8
Soja et al. 2002. Anesthesiology. 97: 1178-1188 8
Soja et al. 2001. Neuroscience. 104: 199-206. 4
Soja et al. 2001. Neuroscience. 104: 199-206. 4

* This is likely an underestimation

The surgical procedures are described in extensive detail in an article devoted to his methods published in 19955 and are largely based on the “chronic cat preparation” first described by Chase et al (1980)6 and Morales etal. (1981)7 (Soja has worked with and published with both Chase and Morales, whose scientific careers are also based on invasive animal experimentation). Briefly, cats were subjected to at least two very invasive brain and spinal surgeries. In the first surgery, four sets of electrodes were implanted: into the frontal sinus (on the forehead, just above the nose), the thalamus (in the front brain), the orbital plate (the bones behind the eyes), and the neck muscles. All electrode wires are attached to a 20-pin connector plug on a head-restraining device permanently fixed to the cat’s skull. The head-restraining device also serves as an access point for areas of the cat’s brain. In the second surgery, the cat’s back was cut open to expose the L1 to L5 vertebrae and titanium screws were inserted into the cat’s spinal column to inhibit movement of the joints. The cat was adjusted to assume a “natural sitting sphinx position” and the titanium screws were permanently tightened to hold the lumbar vertebral column in place. A restraint chamber was built around the cat’s exposed vertebra in such a way as to allow the experimenters access to the cat’s spinal column and to fix the animal in a sitting position for recording sessions. The cats require a 2.5 month period to recover from these surgeries3 (although initial experiments were done with a shorter recovery period of 4-6 weeks).5 Slight alterations in surgical procedures or additional surgeries were performed, depending on the experiment (i.e. the implantation of an additional electrode around the sciatic nerve).5

In Soja’s latest published study from 2008,4 after the surgical implantation (described above) and recovery period and three days prior to the start of the experiments, a small hole was drilled into the L3 vertebra and in the section of the cat’s skull over the cerebellum into which the probes were to be inserted. The microdialysis experiments were then initiated: 34 probes were used to extract samples of the cat’s cerebrospinal fluid during various sleep states. The levels of various amino acids (glutamate, glycine, and GABA) and the neurotransmitter dopamine were measured and compared for the various states between wakefulness and the different sleep states.

At the end of the experimental recording sessions (which can be in excess of 8 months5), the animal is terminated by anesthetic overdose.

This diagram is taken directly from Soja’s paper describing the surgical procedures and gives some idea of the invasive nature of the experiments:5


  1. http://www.pharmacy.ubc.ca/faculty_staff/faculty/pharm_toxi/pharm_toxi_peter_soja.html
  2. http://webapps.cihrirsc.gc.ca/funding/detail_e?pResearchId=1934017&p_version=CIHR&p_language=E&p_session_id=750019
  3. http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/NSERC-CRSNG/FundingDecisions-DecisionsFinancement/CHRPPRCS/Index_eng.asp?Year=2009
  4. Taepavarapruk N, Taepavarapruk P, John J, Lai YY, Siegel JM, Phillips AG, McErlane SA, Soja PJ. Statedependentchanges in glutamate, glycine, GABA, and dopamine levels in cat lumbar spinal cord. J. Neurophysiol. 2008. 100:598-608.
  5. Soja PJ, Fragoso MC, Cairns BE, Oka JI. Dorsal spinocerebellar tract neuronal activity in the intact chronic cat. J Neurosci Methods. 1995 60:227-39.
  6. Chase MH, Chandler SH, Nakamura Y. Intracellular determination of membrane potential of trigeminal motoneurons during sleep and wakefulness. J Neurophysiol. 1980 44:349-58.
  7. Morales FR, Schadt J, Chase MH. Intracellular recording from spinal cord motoneurons in the chronic cat. Physiol Behav. 1981 27:355-62.