There is an enormous demand for new therapeutic interventions for a range of major disorders. The majority of clinical trials in recent years have been unsuccessful despite highly promising preclinical data. Therefore, an urgent issue confronting both the academic and commercial medical research sectors is how to optimize translation of preclinical studies. The vast majority of preclinical studies are currently performed using laboratory mice and rats. We will discuss the various opportunities for optimization of animal models of CNS disorders. One limitation of current approaches is that most studies are conducted on sedentary, unstimulated animals with unlimited access to food in the home cage, thus leading to metabolic and physiological compromise. Environmental enrichment, which enhances sensory stimulation, cognitive activity and physical exercise, has been demonstrated to induce dramatic effects on brain and behavior in both wild-type and genetically modified rodent models, relative to standard-housed littermate controls. Environmental enrichment also exerts beneficial effects outside the CNS, such as a reduction in excess body fat. We propose that therapeutic interventions which are found to show promise in standard-housed preclinical models should be subsequently tested under conditions of greater environmental enrichment to identify therapeutics which continue to show efficacy in housing contexts of superior ‘environmental construct validity’. Other possible approaches to optimize the quality, validity and reporting of preclinical studies in animal models are also discussed.