Protocols in Current Issue
Protocols in Past Issues
0 Q&A 839 Views Feb 5, 2024

Measuring autonomic parameters like heart rate in behaving mice is not only a standard procedure in cardiovascular research but is applied in many other interdisciplinary research fields. With an electrocardiogram (ECG), the heart rate can be measured by deriving the electrical potential between subcutaneously implanted wires across the chest. This is an inexpensive and easy-to-implement technique and particularly suited for repeated recordings of up to eight weeks. This protocol describes a step-by-step guide for manufacturing the needed equipment, performing the surgical procedure of electrode implantation, and processing of acquired data, yielding accurate and reliable detection of heartbeats and calculation of heart rate (HR). We provide MATLAB graphical user interface (GUI)–based tools to extract and start processing the acquired data without a lot of coding knowledge. Finally, based on an example of a data set acquired in the context of defensive reactions, we discuss the potential and pitfalls in analyzing HR data.

Key features

• Next to surgical steps, the protocol provides a detailed description of manufacturing custom-made ECG connectors and a shielded, light-weight patch cable.

• Suitable for recordings in which signal quality is challenged by ambient noise or noise from other recording devices.

• Described for 2-channel differential recording but easily expandable to record from more channels.

• Includes a summary of potential analysis methods and a discussion on the interpretation of HR dynamics in the case study of fear states.

0 Q&A 486 Views Nov 5, 2023

Visual learning in animals is a remarkable cognitive ability that plays a crucial role in their survival and adaptation. Therefore, the ability to learn is highly conserved among animals. Despite lacking a centralized nervous system like vertebrates, invertebrates have demonstrated remarkable learning abilities. Here, we describe a simple behavioral assay that allows the analysis of visual associative learning in individually traceable freely walking adult fruit flies. The setup is based on the simple and widely used behavioral assay to study orientation behavior in flies. A single wing-clipped fly that has been starved for 21 h is placed on a platform where two unreachable opposite visual sets are displayed. This visual learning protocol was initially developed to study the cognitive ability of fruit flies to process numerical information. Through the application of the protocol, flies are able to associate a specific visual set with an appetitive reward. This association is revealed 2 h later during the testing session where we observed a change in their preference upon learning (i.e., change in their spontaneous preference). Moreover, this protocol could potentially be used to associate any other visual object/property to the reward, expanding the opportunities of studying visual learning in freely walking fruit flies at individual level.

Graphical overview

Graphical overview of conditional learning protocol. Forty-eight hours before conditioning, the wings of the flies are clipped, and individual flies are left to recover in a fresh food vial. Twenty-one hours before the conditional learning starts, flies are transferred to a starvation vial containing wet paper. The training session consists in placing a drop of sugar next to the place with the lower number of objects (numerosity) and a drop of water next to the larger numerosity. The fly is placed in the arena and left to freely walk for three minutes. Once the session is finished, the fly is placed back in their empty vial for 2 h until the testing session starts.
1 Q&A 1712 Views Feb 20, 2022

In this protocol, we describe for the first time a judgment bias paradigm to phenotype the way zebrafish assess ambiguous stimuli. We have developed and validated a protocol for a judgment bias test based on a Go/No-go task, and performed using a half radial maze. After a habituation phase, fish are trained to discriminate between two reference arms [positive (P) and negative (N)]. For this purpose, they experience a positive event (food reward in P), when presented with a specific location/color cue, and a negative event (chasing with net in N), when presented with a different location/color cue. Acquisition of the discrimination learning between P and N is revealed by the latencies to enter the experimental arms of the behavioral maze being significantly lower for the P arm than for the N arm. Once zebrafish are able to discriminate between P and N arms, their latency to enter other maze arms spatially located between P and N [(Near Positive (NP), Ambiguous (A) = half-way between P and N, and Near Negative (NN)] is analyzed. Latencies (L) to enter NP, A and NN maze arms are interpreted as indicating the individual expectancy to experience a reward/punishment on each of them. A judgment bias score (JBS) is calculated from the latencies to enter the P, N, and A arms for each fish [JBS = (LA–LP)*100/(LN–LP)], based on which fish can be classified into an optimistic/pessimistic axis. A JBS below 50 indicates that fish perceive the ambiguous stimulus as a positive one (optimistic bias), while JBS above 50 indicates that fish perceive the ambiguous stimulus as a negative one (pessimistic bias). However, for classification criteria, it could be advantageous to use the method of selecting extreme phenotypes (e.g., upper and lower quartiles of the JBS), since JBS in zebrafish falls into a bimodal distribution (unpublished data). Therefore, this protocol provides a unique, inexpensive, and effective alternative to other methods of measuring affective states in zebrafish that might be of great interest to a broad target audience and have a large number of applications.

Graphic abstract:

Flow chart of the judgment bias protocol in zebrafish.

0 Q&A 1288 Views Feb 20, 2022

Understanding the neural basis of reward processing is a major concern, as it holds the key to alleviating symptoms of addiction and poor mental health. However, this goal seems difficult to attain as long as research on reward processing cannot easily be compared across species and reward types, due to methodological differences and the presence of confounding factors. We recently developed an experimental paradigm that allows monitoring anticipatory and consummatory responses to matched social (touch) and nonsocial (food) rewards in adult humans. The following protocol describes in detail the materials and the paradigm, which measures reward wanting and liking with a real effort task and subjective ratings. It can also be used in combination with facial electromyography (EMG), brain imaging (e.g., fMRI), and pharmacological interventions. It is our firm belief that the field will profit greatly from more research being conducted on reward processing using this and similarly controlled paradigms, which allow for cross-species comparison.

0 Q&A 2515 Views Mar 20, 2021

Space and time are both essential features of episodic memory. However, while spatial tasks have been used effectively to study the behavioral relevance of place cells, the behavioral paradigms utilized for the study of time cells have not used time duration as a variable that animals need to be aware of to solve the task. In order to evaluate how time flow is coded into memory, time duration needs to be a variable that animals use to solve the behavioral task. This protocol describes a novel behavioral paradigm, the time duration discrimination (TDD) task, which is designed to directly investigate the neurological mechanisms that underlie temporal processing. During the TDD task, rats navigate around a Figure-8 Maze, which contains a rectangular track with a central arm and a delay box at the end of the central arm. While confined to the delay box, rats experience a 10- or 20-second time delay, during which a tone will play for the duration of the 10- or 20-second delay. When the delay box opens, the rat will choose whether to turn left or right out of the delay box and receive a reward for the correct choice (e.g., 10 seconds = left turn; 20 seconds = right turn). By directly manipulating elapsed time, we can better explore the behavioral relevance of hippocampal time cells and whether the time-dependent activity seen in physiological recordings of hippocampal neurons reflects a neuronal representation of time flow that can be used by the animal for learning and storing memories.

Graphic abstract:

Elapsed time duration discrimination in rats

0 Q&A 2680 Views Mar 5, 2021

The development of mazes for animal experiments has allowed for the investigation of cognitive maps and place cells, spatial working memory, naturalistic navigation, perseverance, exploration, and choice and motivated behavior. However, many mazes, such as the T maze, currently developed to test learning and memory, do not distinguish temporally and spatially between the encoding and recall periods, which makes it difficult to study these stages separately when analyzing animal behavior and electrophysiology. Other mazes, such as the radial maze, rely on single visits to portions of the maze, making maze coverage sparse for place cell and electrophysiology experiments. In this protocol, we present instructions for building and training an animal on a spatial appetitive choice task on a low-cost double-sided T (or H) maze. This maze has several advantages over the traditional T maze and radial mazes. This maze is unique in that it temporally and directionally dissociates the memory encoding and retrieval periods, while requiring the same behaviors of the animal during both periods. This design allows for independent investigation of brain mechanisms, such as cross-region theta coordination, during memory encoding and retrieval, while at least partially dissociating these stages from behavior. This maze has been previously used in our laboratory to investigate cell firing, single-region local field potential (LFP) patterns, and cross region LFP coherence in the hippocampus, lateral septum, prefrontal cortex, and ventral tegmental area, as well as to investigate the effects of hippocampal theta perturbations on task performance.

0 Q&A 2922 Views Sep 5, 2020
Animals keep track of time intervals in the seconds to minutes range with, on average, high accuracy but substantial trial-to-trial variability. The ability to detect the statistical signatures of such timing behavior is an indispensable feature of a good and theoretically-tractable testing procedure. A widely used interval timing procedure is the peak interval (PI) procedure, where animals learn to anticipate rewards that become available after a fixed delay. After learning, they cluster their responses around that reward-availability time. The in-depth analysis of such timed anticipatory responses leads to the understanding of an internal timing mechanism, that is, the processing dynamics and systematic biases of the brain’s clock. This protocol explains in detail how the PI procedure can be implemented in rodents, from training through testing to analysis. We showcase both trial-by-trial and trial-averaged analytical methods as a window into these internal processes. This protocol has the advantages of capturing timing behavior in its full-complexity in a fashion that allows for a theoretical treatment of the data.
0 Q&A 2570 Views Aug 20, 2020
The ability to perform a sequence of movements is a key component of motor skills, such as typing or playing a musical instrument. How the brain binds elementary movements together into meaningful actions has been a topic of much interest. Here, we describe two sequential reaching tasks that we use to investigate the neural substrate of skilled sequential movements in monkeys after long-term practice. The movement elements performed in these tasks are essentially identical, but are generated in two different contexts. In one task, monkeys perform reaching movements that are instructed by visual cues. In the other, the monkeys perform reaching movements that are generated from memory after extended practice. With this behavioral paradigm, we can dissociate the neural processes related to the acquisition and retention of motor skills from those related to movement execution.
0 Q&A 4566 Views Aug 5, 2020
Stress is crucial to the survival of an organism, but excessive stress can lead to psychological disorders including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidality. The prevailing notion is that chronic stress promotes adverse outcomes on brain and body health, whereas acute stressors are generally benign. Notably, acute events such mass shootings or natural disasters are now emerging as significant sources of cognitive and emotional problems including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These events are characterized by the simultaneous occurrence of physical, emotional, and social stresses, which last minutes to hours. Hence, there is a need to model such multiple concurrent acute stresses (MAS) to uncover the mechanisms by which they lead to profound adverse outcomes. The MAS paradigm described here involves simultaneously exposing a rodent to several different stressors including restraint, crowding, and jostling alongside peers in a brightly lit and very noisy environment. Moreover, the MAS paradigm can be used once or imposed repeatedly to emulate complex, repeated modern life stresses, advancing our mechanistic understanding of consequent mental and cognitive impairments.
0 Q&A 3113 Views Jul 5, 2020
Working memory abnormalities involving the prefrontal cortex (PFC) dramatically contribute to poor functional outcomes in patients with schizophrenia and still represent an unmet therapeutic need. Studies in rodents might provide essential tools to understand the mechanisms underlying PFC-dependent working memory dysfunctions, as well as precious tools for genetic and pharmacological testing. However, proper tests assessing working memory and sensitive to PFC-dependent functions must be used. In this regard, the discrete paired-trial variable-delay T-maze task, equivalent to delayed non-match to sample tasks used in humans, has proved to be an effective paradigm to test PFC-dependent working memory dysfunctions with high predictive validity in human studies.

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