For many animals, hunger promotes changes in the olfactory system in a manner that facilitates the search for appropriate food sources. In this video article, we describe an automated assay to measure the effect of hunger or satiety on olfactory dependent food search behavior in the adult fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. In a light-tight box illuminated by red light that is invisible to fruit flies, a camera linked to custom data acquisition software monitors the position of six flies simultaneously. Each fly is confined to walk in individual arenas containing a food odor at the center. The testing arenas rest on a porous floor that functions to prevent odor accumulation. Latency to locate the odor source, a metric that reflects olfactory sensitivity under different physiological states, is determined by software analysis. Here, we discuss the critical mechanics of running this behavioral paradigm and cover specific issues regarding fly loading, odor contamination, assay temperature, data quality, and statistical analysis.
18 Related JoVE Articles!
Drosophila Adult Olfactory Shock Learning
Institutions: University of Bristol.
have been used in classical conditioning experiments for over 40 years, thus greatly facilitating our understanding of memory, including the elucidation of the molecular mechanisms involved in cognitive diseases1-7
. Learning and memory can be assayed in larvae to study the effect of neurodevelopmental genes8-10
and in flies to measure the contribution of adult plasticity genes1-7
. Furthermore, the short lifespan of Drosophila
facilitates the analysis of genes mediating age-related memory impairment5,11-13
. The availability of many inducible promoters that subdivide the Drosophila
nervous system makes it possible to determine when and where a gene of interest is required for normal memory as well as relay of different aspects of the reinforcement signal3,4,14,16
Studying memory in adult Drosophila
allows for a detailed analysis of the behavior and circuitry involved and a measurement of long-term memory15-17
. The length of the adult stage accommodates longer-term genetic, behavioral, dietary and pharmacological manipulations of memory, in addition to determining the effect of aging and neurodegenerative disease on memory3-6,11-13,15-21
Classical conditioning is induced by the simultaneous presentation of a neutral odor cue (conditioned stimulus, CS+
) and a reinforcement stimulus, e.g
., an electric shock or sucrose, (unconditioned stimulus, US), that become associated with one another by the animal1,16
. A second conditioned stimulus (CS-
) is subsequently presented without the US. During the testing phase, Drosophila
are simultaneously presented with CS+ and CS- odors. After the Drosophila
are provided time to choose between the odors, the distribution of the animals is recorded. This procedure allows associative aversive or appetitive conditioning to be reliably measured without a bias introduced by the innate preference for either of the conditioned stimuli. Various control experiments are also performed to test whether all genotypes respond normally to odor and reinforcement alone.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, Drosophila, Pavlovian learning, classical conditioning, learning, memory, olfactory, electric shock, associative memory
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
Testing Drosophila Olfaction with a Y-maze Assay
Institutions: UMR-6265 CNRS, UMR-1324 INRA, Université de Bourgogne.
Detecting signals from the environment is essential for animals to ensure their survival. To this aim, they use environmental cues such as vision, mechanoreception, hearing, and chemoperception through taste, via direct contact or through olfaction, which represents the response to a volatile molecule acting at longer range. Volatile chemical molecules are very important signals for most animals in the detection of danger, a source of food, or to communicate between individuals. Drosophila melanogaster
is one of the most common biological models for scientists to explore the cellular and molecular basis of olfaction. In order to highlight olfactory abilities of this small insect, we describe a modified choice protocol based on the Y-maze test classically used with mice. Data obtained with Y-mazes give valuable information to better understand how animals deal with their perpetually changing environment. We introduce a step-by-step protocol to study the impact of odorants on fly exploratory response using this Y-maze assay.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, environmental effects (biological, animal and plant), genetics (animal and plant), life sciences, animal biology, behavioral sciences, Y-maze, olfaction, adult, choice, behavior, Drosophila melanogaster
Simultaneous Long-term Recordings at Two Neuronal Processing Stages in Behaving Honeybees
Institutions: University of Würzburg.
In both mammals and insects neuronal information is processed in different higher and lower order brain centers. These centers are coupled via convergent and divergent anatomical connections including feed forward and feedback wiring. Furthermore, information of the same origin is partially sent via parallel pathways to different and sometimes into the same brain areas. To understand the evolutionary benefits as well as the computational advantages of these wiring strategies and especially their temporal dependencies on each other, it is necessary to have simultaneous access to single neurons of different tracts or neuropiles in the same preparation at high temporal resolution. Here we concentrate on honeybees by demonstrating a unique extracellular long term access to record multi unit activity at two subsequent neuropiles1
, the antennal lobe (AL), the first olfactory processing stage and the mushroom body (MB), a higher order integration center involved in learning and memory formation, or two parallel neuronal tracts2
connecting the AL with the MB. The latter was chosen as an example and will be described in full. In the supporting video the construction and permanent insertion of flexible multi channel wire electrodes is demonstrated. Pairwise differential amplification of the micro wire electrode channels drastically reduces the noise and verifies that the source of the signal is closely related to the position of the electrode tip. The mechanical flexibility of the used wire electrodes allows stable invasive long term recordings over many hours up to days, which is a clear advantage compared to conventional extra and intracellular in vivo
Neuroscience, Issue 89, honeybee brain, olfaction, extracellular long term recordings, double recordings, differential wire electrodes, single unit, multi-unit recordings
A Lateralized Odor Learning Model in Neonatal Rats for Dissecting Neural Circuitry Underpinning Memory Formation
Institutions: Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University, University of Victoria.
Rat pups during a critical postnatal period (≤ 10 days) readily form a preference for an odor that is associated with stimuli mimicking maternal care. Such a preference memory can last from hours, to days, even life-long, depending on training parameters. Early odor preference learning provides us with a model in which the critical changes for a natural form of learning occur in the olfactory circuitry. An additional feature that makes it a powerful tool for the analysis of memory processes is that early odor preference learning can be lateralized via
single naris occlusion within the critical period. This is due to the lack of mature anterior commissural connections of the olfactory hemispheres at this early age. This work outlines behavioral protocols for lateralized odor learning using nose plugs. Acute, reversible naris occlusion minimizes tissue and neuronal damages associated with long-term occlusion and more aggressive methods such as cauterization. The lateralized odor learning model permits within-animal comparison, therefore greatly reducing variance compared to between-animal designs. This method has been used successfully to probe the circuit changes in the olfactory system produced by training. Future directions include exploring molecular underpinnings of odor memory using this lateralized learning model; and correlating physiological change with memory strength and durations.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, lateralized odor learning, rats, memory, nose plug, olfactory bulb, piriform cortex, phosphorylated CREB
A Procedure to Observe Context-induced Renewal of Pavlovian-conditioned Alcohol-seeking Behavior in Rats
Institutions: Concordia University.
Environmental contexts in which drugs of abuse are consumed can trigger craving, a subjective Pavlovian-conditioned response that can facilitate drug-seeking behavior and prompt relapse in abstinent drug users. We have developed a procedure to study the behavioral and neural processes that mediate the impact of context on alcohol-seeking behavior in rats. Following acclimation to the taste and pharmacological effects of 15% ethanol in the home cage, male Long-Evans rats receive Pavlovian discrimination training (PDT) in conditioning chambers. In each daily (Mon-Fri) PDT session, 16 trials each of two different 10 sec auditory conditioned stimuli occur. During one stimulus, the CS+, 0.2 ml of 15% ethanol is delivered into a fluid port for oral consumption. The second stimulus, the CS-, is not paired with ethanol. Across sessions, entries into the fluid port during the CS+ increase, whereas entries during the CS- stabilize at a lower level, indicating that a predictive association between the CS+ and ethanol is acquired. During PDT each chamber is equipped with a specific configuration of visual, olfactory and tactile contextual stimuli. Following PDT, extinction training is conducted in the same chamber that is now equipped with a different configuration of contextual stimuli. The CS+ and CS- are presented as before, but ethanol is withheld, which causes a gradual decline in port entries during the CS+. At test, rats are placed back into the PDT context and presented with the CS+ and CS- as before, but without ethanol. This manipulation triggers a robust and selective increase in the number of port entries made during the alcohol predictive CS+, with no change in responding during the CS-. This effect, referred to as context-induced renewal, illustrates the powerful capacity of contexts associated with alcohol consumption to stimulate alcohol-seeking behavior in response to Pavlovian alcohol cues.
Behavior, Issue 91, Behavioral neuroscience, alcoholism, relapse, addiction, Pavlovian conditioning, ethanol, reinstatement, discrimination, conditioned approach
Straightforward Assay for Quantification of Social Avoidance in Drosophila melanogaster
Institutions: Yale University, York College/CUNY, Western Ontario University.
is an emerging model to study different aspects of social interactions. For example, flies avoid areas previously occupied by stressed conspecifics due to an odorant released during stress known as the Drosophila
stress odorant (dSO). Through the use of the T-maze apparatus, one can quantify the avoidance of the dSO by responder flies in a very affordable and robust assay. Conditions necessary to obtain a strong performance are presented here. A stressful experience is necessary for the flies to emit dSO, as well as enough emitter flies to cause a robust avoidance response to the presence of dSO. Genetic background, but not their group size, strongly altered the avoidance of the dSO by the responder flies. Canton-S and Elwood display a higher performance in avoiding the dSO than Oregon and Samarkand strains. This behavioral assay will allow identification of mechanisms underlying this social behavior, and the assessment of the influence of genes and environmental conditions on both emission and avoidance of the dSO. Such an assay can be included in batteries of simple diagnostic tests used to identify social deficiencies of mutants or environmental conditions of interest.
Neuroscience, Issue 94, social behavior, social avoidance, Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila, Stress Odorant - dSO, T-maze apparatus, neurogenetics
Contextual and Cued Fear Conditioning Test Using a Video Analyzing System in Mice
Institutions: Fujita Health University, Core Research for Evolutionary Science and Technology (CREST), National Institutes of Natural Sciences.
The contextual and cued fear conditioning test is one of the behavioral tests that assesses the ability of mice to learn and remember an association between environmental cues and aversive experiences. In this test, mice are placed into a conditioning chamber and are given parings of a conditioned stimulus (an auditory cue) and an aversive unconditioned stimulus (an electric footshock). After a delay time, the mice are exposed to the same conditioning chamber and a differently shaped chamber with presentation of the auditory cue. Freezing behavior during the test is measured as an index of fear memory. To analyze the behavior automatically, we have developed a video analyzing system using the ImageFZ application software program, which is available as a free download at http://www.mouse-phenotype.org/. Here, to show the details of our protocol, we demonstrate our procedure for the contextual and cued fear conditioning test in C57BL/6J mice using the ImageFZ system. In addition, we validated our protocol and the video analyzing system performance by comparing freezing time measured by the ImageFZ system or a photobeam-based computer measurement system with that scored by a human observer. As shown in our representative results, the data obtained by ImageFZ were similar to those analyzed by a human observer, indicating that the behavioral analysis using the ImageFZ system is highly reliable. The present movie article provides detailed information regarding the test procedures and will promote understanding of the experimental situation.
Behavior, Issue 85, Fear, Learning, Memory, ImageFZ program, Mouse, contextual fear, cued fear
Proboscis Extension Response (PER) Assay in Drosophila
Institutions: Yale University.
Proboscis extension response (PER) is a taste behavior assay that has been used in flies as well as in honeybees.
On the surface of the fly's mouth (labellum), there are hair-like structures called sensilla which houses taste neurons. When an attractive substance makes contact to the labellum, the fly extends its proboscis to consume the material. Proboscis Extension Response (PER) assay measures this taste behavior response, and it is a useful method to learn about food preferences in a single fly. Solutions of various sugars, such as sucrose, glucose and fructose, are very attractive to the fly. The effect of aversive substances can also be tested as reduction of PER when mixed in a sweet solution.Despite the simplicity of the basic procedure, there are many things that can prevent it from working. One of the factors that requires attention is the fly's responsive state. The required starvation time to bring the fly to the proper responsive state varies drastically from 36 to 72 hours. We established a series of controls to evaluate the fly's state and which allows screening out of non-responsive or hyper-responsive individual animals. Another important factor is the impact level and the position of the contact to the labellum, which would be difficult to describe by words. This video presentation demonstrates all these together with several other improvements that would increase the reproducibility of this method.
Neuroscience, Issue 3, Drosophila, behavior, taste, proboscis, extension
Appetitive Associative Olfactory Learning in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Konstanz, University of Fribourg.
In the following we describe the methodological details of appetitive associative olfactory learning in Drosophila
larvae. The setup, in combination with genetic interference, provides a handle to analyze the neuronal and molecular fundamentals of specifically associative
learning in a simple larval brain.
Organisms can use past experience to adjust present behavior. Such acquisition of behavioral potential can be defined as learning, and the physical bases of these potentials as memory traces1-4
. Neuroscientists try to understand how these processes are organized in terms of molecular and neuronal changes in the brain by using a variety of methods in model organisms ranging from insects to vertebrates5,6
. For such endeavors it is helpful to use model systems that are simple and experimentally accessible. The Drosophila
larva has turned out to satisfy these demands based on the availability of robust behavioral assays, the existence of a variety of transgenic techniques and the elementary organization of the nervous system comprising only about 10,000 neurons (albeit with some concessions: cognitive limitations, few behavioral options, and richness of experience questionable)7-10
larvae can form associations between odors and appetitive gustatory reinforcement like sugar11-14
. In a standard assay, established in the lab of B. Gerber, animals receive a two-odor reciprocal training: A first group of larvae is exposed to an odor A together with a gustatory reinforcer (sugar reward) and is subsequently exposed to an odor B without reinforcement 9
. Meanwhile a second group of larvae receives reciprocal training while experiencing odor A without reinforcement and subsequently being exposed to odor B with reinforcement (sugar reward). In the following both groups are tested for their preference between the two odors. Relatively higher preferences for the rewarded odor reflect associative learning - presented as a performance index (PI). The conclusion regarding the associative nature of the performance index is compelling, because apart from the contingency between odors and tastants, other parameters, such as odor and reward exposure, passage of time and handling do not differ between the two groups9
Neuroscience, Issue 72, Developmental Biology, Neurobiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Behavior, Drosophila, fruit fly, larvae, instar, olfaction, olfactory system, odor, 1-octanol, OCT, learning, reward, sugar, feeding, animal model
An Optimized Protocol for Rearing Fopius arisanus, a Parasitoid of Tephritid Fruit Flies
Institutions: US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center.
(Sonan) is an important parasitoid of Tephritid fruit flies for at least two reasons. First, it is the one of only three opiine parasitoids known to infect the host during the egg stage1
. Second, it has a wide range of potential fruit fly hosts. Perhaps due to its life history, F. arisanus
has been a successfully used for biological control of fruit flies in multiple tropical regions2-4
. One impediment to the wide use of F. arisanus
for fruit fly control is that it is difficult to establish a stable laboratory colony5-9
. Despite this difficulty, in the 1990s USDA researchers developed a reliable method to maintain laboratory populations of F. arisanus10-12
. There is significant interest in F. arisanus
, especially regarding its ability to colonize a wide variety of Tephritid hosts14-17
; interest is especially driven by the alarming spread of Bactrocera
fruit fly pests to new continents in the last decade18
. Further research on F. arisanus
and additional deployments of this species as a biological control agent will benefit from optimizations and improvements of rearing methods. In this protocol and associated video article we describe an optimized method for rearing F. arisanus
based on a previously described approach12
. The method we describe here allows rearing of F. arisanus
in a small scale without the use of fruit, using materials available in tropical regions around the world and with relatively low manual labor requirements.
Developmental Biology, Issue 53, Biological control, Tephritidae, parasitoid, French Polynesia, insectary
Behavioural Pharmacology in Classical Conditioning of the Proboscis Extension Response in Honeybees (Apis mellifera)
Institutions: Freie Universität Berlin.
Honeybees (Apis mellifera
) are well known for their communication and orientation skills and for their impressive learning capability1,2
. Because the survival of a honeybee colony depends on the exploitation of food sources, forager bees learn and memorize variable flower sites as well as their profitability. Forager bees can be easily trained in natural settings where they forage at a feeding site and learn the related signals such as odor or color. Appetitive associative learning can also be studied under controlled conditions in the laboratory by conditioning the proboscis extension response (PER) of individually harnessed honeybees3,4
. This learning paradigm enables the study of the neuronal and molecular mechanisms that underlie learning and memory formation in a simple and highly reliable way5-12
. A behavioral pharmacology approach is used to study molecular mechanisms. Drugs are injected systemically to interfere with the function of specific molecules during or after learning and memory formation13-16
Here we demonstrate how to train harnessed honeybees in PER conditioning and how to apply drugs systemically by injection into the bee flight muscle.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Classical conditioning, behavioural pharmacology, insect, invertebrate, honeybee, learning, memory
In vivo Ca2+- Imaging of Mushroom Body Neurons During Olfactory Learning in the Honey Bee
Institutions: Freie Universität Berlin, Free University Berlin - Freie Universitaet Berlin.
The in vivo
and semi-in vivo
preparation for Calcium imaging has been developed in our lab by Joerges, Küttner and Galizia over ten years ago, to measure odor evoked activity in the antennal lobe1
. From then on, it has been continuously refined and applied to different neuropiles in the bee brain. Here, we describe the preparation currently used in the lab to measure activity in mushroom body neurons using a dextran coupled calcium-sensitive dye (Fura-2). We retrogradely stain mushroom body neurons by injecting dye into their axons or soma region. We focus on reducing the invasiveness, to achieve a preparation in which it is still possible to train the bee using PER conditioning. We are able to monitor and quantify the behavioral response by recording electro-myograms from the muscle which controls the PER (M17)2
After the physiological experiment the imaged structures are investigated in greater detail using confocal scanning microscopy to address the identity of the neurons.
Neuroscience, Issue 30, Calcium Imaging, Insects, Mushroom Body, PER Conditioning, Olfaction, Fura-2
Visually Mediated Odor Tracking During Flight in Drosophila
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles.
Flying insects use visual cues to stabilize their heading in a wind stream. Many animals additionally track odors carried in the wind. As such, visual stabilization of upwind tracking directly aids in odor tracking. But do olfactory signals directly influence visual tracking behavior independently from wind cues? Additionally, recent advances in olfactory molecular genetics and neurophysiology have motivated novel quantitative behavioral analyses to assess the behavioral influence of (e.g.) genetically inactivating specific olfactory activation circuits. We modified a magnetic tether system originally devised for vision experiments by equipping the arena with narrow laminar flow odor plumes. Here we focus on experiments that can be performed after a fly is tethered and is able to navigate in the magnetic arena. We show how to acquire video images optimized for measuring body angle, how to judge stable odor tracking, and we illustrate two experiments to examine the influence of visual cues on odor tracking.
Neuroscience, Issue 23, Drosophila, magnet, olfaction, vision, behavior, flight, video
A Magnetic Tether System to Investigate Visual and Olfactory Mediated Flight Control in Drosophila
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles.
It has been clear for many years that insects use visual cues to stabilize their heading in a wind stream. Many animals track odors carried in the wind. As such, visual stabilization of upwind tracking directly aids in odor tracking. But do olfactory signals directly influence visual tracking behavior independently from wind cues? Also, the recent deluge of research on the neurophysiology and neurobehavioral genetics of olfaction in Drosophila has motivated ever more technically sophisticated and quantitative behavioral assays. Here, we modified a magnetic tether system originally devised for vision experiments by equipping the arena with narrow laminar flow odor plumes. A fly is glued to a small steel pin and suspended in a magnetic field that enables it to yaw freely. Small diameter food odor plumes are directed downward over the fly s head, eliciting stable tracking by a hungry fly. Here we focus on the critical mechanics of tethering, aligning the magnets, devising the odor plume, and confirming stable odor tracking.
Neuroscience, Issue 21, tether, Drosophila, magnet, olfaction, flight, behavior
Operant Learning of Drosophila at the Torque Meter
Institutions: Free University of Berlin.
For experiments at the torque meter, flies are kept on standard fly medium at 25°C and 60% humidity with a 12hr light/12hr dark regime. A standardized breeding regime assures proper larval density and age-matched cohorts. Cold-anesthetized flies are glued with head and thorax to a triangle-shaped hook the day before the experiment. Attached to the torque meter via a clamp, the fly's intended flight maneuvers are measured as the angular momentum around its vertical body axis. The fly is placed in the center of a cylindrical panorama to accomplish stationary flight. An analog to digital converter card feeds the yaw torque signal into a computer which stores the trace for later analysis. The computer also controls a variety of stimuli which can be brought under the fly's control by closing the feedback loop between these stimuli and the yaw torque trace. Punishment is achieved by applying heat from an adjustable infrared laser.
Neuroscience, Issue 16, operant, learning, Drosophila, fruit fly, insect, invertebrate, neuroscience, neurobiology, fly, conditioning
Operant Procedures for Assessing Behavioral Flexibility in Rats
Institutions: St. Mary's College of Maryland, University of British Columbia.
Executive functions consist of multiple high-level cognitive processes that drive rule generation and behavioral selection. An emergent property of these processes is the ability to adjust behavior in response to changes in one’s environment (i.e.
, behavioral flexibility). These processes are essential to normal human behavior, and may be disrupted in diverse neuropsychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia, alcoholism, depression, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding of the neurobiology of executive functions has been greatly advanced by the availability of animal tasks for assessing discrete components of behavioral flexibility, particularly strategy shifting and reversal learning. While several types of tasks have been developed, most are non-automated, labor intensive, and allow testing of only one animal at a time. The recent development of automated, operant-based tasks for assessing behavioral flexibility streamlines testing, standardizes stimulus presentation and data recording, and dramatically improves throughput. Here, we describe automated strategy shifting and reversal tasks, using operant chambers controlled by custom written software programs. Using these tasks, we have shown that the medial prefrontal cortex governs strategy shifting but not reversal learning in the rat, similar to the dissociation observed in humans. Moreover, animals with a neonatal hippocampal lesion, a neurodevelopmental model of schizophrenia, are selectively impaired on the strategy shifting task but not the reversal task. The strategy shifting task also allows the identification of separate types of performance errors, each of which is attributable to distinct neural substrates. The availability of these automated tasks, and the evidence supporting the dissociable contributions of separate prefrontal areas, makes them particularly well-suited assays for the investigation of basic neurobiological processes as well as drug discovery and screening in disease models.
Behavior, Issue 96, executive function, behavioral flexibility, prefrontal cortex, strategy shifting, reversal learning, behavioral neuroscience, schizophrenia, operant