Protocols in Current Issue
Protocols in Past Issues
0 Q&A 1135 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.

1 Q&A 1546 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 2417 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 2528 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 2741 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 2497 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 4244 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 2982 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.
0 Q&A 4197 Views Jun 20, 2020
The novel object recognition (NOR) task is a behavioral test commonly used to evaluate episodic-like declarative memory and it relies on the innate tendency of rodents to explore novelty. Here we present a maze used to evaluate NOR memory in mice that reduces the time of the assay while improving reliability of the measurements by increasing the exploratory behavior. This memory test, being performed in a two-arms maze, is suitable for several strains of mice (including inbreed and outbreed) and does not require extended training sessions allowing an accurate temporal assessment of memory formation. This particular maze increases the mouse exploration time and reduces variability compared to other arenas used before to assess NOR. As both long- and short-term NOR memory can be easily and accurately quantified using this paradigm, this improved methodology can be easily applied to study pharmacological, genetic or age-related modulation of cognitive function.
0 Q&A 2770 Views Jun 5, 2020
Exposure to environmental enrichment has beneficial effects on learning and memory, diverse neurobiological effects, and promotes recovery of function after brain injury. The effect of enrichment is produced by a combination of increased social interaction, physical activity, spatial complexity, and novelty. Procedures in the literature have, however, been idiosyncratic with poor consistency in the manner or extent to which protocols provide consistent enrichment. We provide an environmental enrichment protocol that can be easily replicated with minor details determined locally so that animals across cohorts and cages all experience a comparable level of enrichment. Procedures are outlined to generate and use a daily pool of suitably varied objects using a standardized format, with objects systematically varied up to a 40-day continuous period. Together with using a large group of rats in a suitably-sized cage, and regular shifting of the position of food and water and cage location, these procedures have produced robust effects in different laboratories and rat strain, thereby improving comparisons within and across laboratories. Non-enriched comparisons can vary, but typically would include grouped animals in standard laboratory housing without objects and with stable food and water locations. Enrichment is a safe non-pharamacological tool to examine behavioral and neurobiological processes in animal models of the lifespan, brain dysfunction and injury.

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