Induction of phosphorylated extracellular-regulated kinase (pERK) is a reliable molecular readout of learning-dependent neuronal activation. Here, we describe a pERK immunohistochemistry protocol to study the profile of hippocampal neuron activation following exposure to a spatial learning task in a mouse model characterized by cognitive deficits of neurodevelopmental origin. Specifically, we used pERK immunostaining to study neuronal activation following Morris water maze (MWM, a classical hippocampal-dependent learning task) in Engrailed-2 knockout (En2-/-) mice, a model of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). As compared to wild-type (WT) controls, En2-/- mice showed significant spatial learning deficits in the MWM. After MWM, significant differences in the number of pERK-positive neurons were detected in specific hippocampal subfields of En2-/- mice, as compared to WT animals. Thus, our protocol can robustly detect differences in pERK-positive neurons associated to hippocampal-dependent learning impairment in a mouse model of ASD. More generally, our protocol can be applied to investigate the profile of hippocampal neuron activation in both genetic or pharmacological mouse models characterized by cognitive deficits.
14 Related JoVE Articles!
Low-stress Route Learning Using the Lashley III Maze in Mice
Institutions: Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles.
Many behavior tests designed to assess learning and memory in rodents, particularly mice, rely on visual cues, food and/or water deprivation, or other aversive stimuli to motivate task acquisition. As animals age, sensory modalities deteriorate. For example, many strains of mice develop hearing deficits or cataracts. Changes in the sensory systems required to guide mice during task acquisition present potential confounds in interpreting learning changes in aging animals. Moreover, the use of aversive stimuli to motivate animals to learn tasks is potentially confounding when comparing mice with differential sensitivities to stress. To minimize these types of confounding effects, we have implemented a modified version of the Lashley III maze. This maze relies on route learning, whereby mice learn to navigate a maze via repeated exposure under low stress conditions, e.g. dark phase, no food/water deprivation, until they navigate a path from the start location to a pseudo-home cage with 0 or 1 error(s) on two consecutive trials. We classify this as a low-stress behavior test because it does not rely on aversive stimuli to encourage exploration of the maze and learning of the task. The apparatus consists of a modular start box, a 4-arm maze body, and a goal box. At the end of the goal box is a pseudo-home cage that contains bedding similar to that found in the animal’s home cage and is specific to each animal for the duration of maze testing. It has been demonstrated previously that this pseudo-home cage provides sufficient reward to motivate mice to learn to navigate the maze1
. Here, we present the visualization of the Lashley III maze procedure in the context of evaluating age-related differences in learning and memory in mice along with a comparison of learning behavior in two different background strains of mice. We hope that other investigators interested in evaluating the effects of aging or stress vulnerability in mice will consider this maze an attractive alternative to behavioral tests that involve more stressful learning tasks and/or visual cues.
Neuroscience, Issue 39, mouse, behavior testing, learning, memory, neuroscience, phenotyping, aging
Morris Water Maze Test: Optimization for Mouse Strain and Testing Environment
Institutions: West Virginia University, West Virginia University, N. Bud Grossman Center for Memory Research and Care, University of Minnesota, N. Bud Grossman Center for Memory Research and Care, University of Minnesota, GRECC, VA Medical Center, West Virginia University.
The Morris water maze (MWM) is a commonly used task to assess hippocampal-dependent spatial learning and memory in transgenic mouse models of disease, including neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, the background strain of the mouse model used can have a substantial effect on the observed behavioral phenotype, with some strains exhibiting superior learning ability relative to others. To ensure differences between transgene negative and transgene positive mice can be detected, identification of a training procedure sensitive to the background strain is essential. Failure to tailor the MWM protocol to the background strain of the mouse model may lead to under- or over- training, thereby masking group differences in probe trials. Here, a MWM protocol tailored for use with the F1 FVB/N x 129S6 background is described. This is a frequently used background strain to study the age-dependent effects of mutant P301L tau (rTg(TauP301L)4510 mice) on the memory deficits associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Also described is a strategy to re-optimize, as dictated by the particular testing environment utilized.
Behavior, Issue 100, Spatial learning, spatial reference memory, Morris water maze, Alzheimer’s disease, behavior, tau, hippocampal-dependent learning, rTg4510, Tg2576, strain background, transgenic mouse models
Shallow Water (Paddling) Variants of Water Maze Tests in Mice
Institutions: University of Oxford.
When Richard Morris devised his water maze in 19817
, most behavioral work was done in rats. However, the greater understanding of mouse genetics led to the mouse becoming increasingly important. But researchers found that some strains of mutant mice were prone to problems like passively floating or diving when they were tested in the Morris water maze11
. This was unsurprising considering their natural habitat; rats swim naturally (classically, the "sewer rat"), whereas mice evolved in the dry areas of central Asia.
To overcome these problems, it was considered whether shallow water would be a sufficient stimulus to provide escape motivation for mice. This would also avoid the problems of drying the small creatures with a towel and then putting them in a heated recovery chamber to avoid hypothermia, which is a much more serious problem than with rats; the large ratio of surface area to volume of a mouse makes it particularly vulnerable to rapid heat loss.
Another consideration was whether a more natural escape strategy could be used, to facilitate learning. Since animals that fall into water and swim away from the safety of the shore are unlikely to pass on their genes, animals have evolved a natural tendency to swim to the edge of a body of water. The Morris water maze, however, requires them to swim to a hidden platform towards the center of the maze - exactly opposite to their evolved behavior. Therefore the paddling maze should incorporate escape to the edge of the apparatus. This feature, coupled with the use of relatively non-aversive shallow water, embodies the "Refinement" aspect of the "3 Rs" of Russell and Burch8
Various types of maze design were tried; the common feature was that the water was always shallow (2 cm deep) and escape was via a tube piercing the transparent wall of the apparatus. Other tubes ("false exits") were also placed around the walls but these were blocked off. From the inside of the maze all false exits and the single true exit looked the same. Currently a dodecagonal (12-sided) maze is in use in Oxford, with 12 true/false exits set in the corners. In a recent development a transparent paddling Y-maze has been tested successfully.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Medicine, Psychology, Mice, hippocampus, paddling pool, Alzheimer's, welfare, 3Rs, Morris water maze, paddling Y-maze, Barnes maze, animal model
Use of an Eight-arm Radial Water Maze to Assess Working and Reference Memory Following Neonatal Brain Injury
Institutions: Rhode Island College, Rhode Island College.
Working and reference memory are commonly assessed using the land based radial arm maze. However, this paradigm requires pretraining, food deprivation, and may introduce scent cue confounds. The eight-arm radial water maze is designed to evaluate reference and working memory performance simultaneously by requiring subjects to use extra-maze cues to locate escape platforms and remedies the limitations observed in land based radial arm maze designs. Specifically, subjects are required to avoid the arms previously used for escape during each testing day (working memory) as well as avoid the fixed arms, which never contain escape platforms (reference memory). Re-entries into arms that have already been used for escape during a testing session (and thus the escape platform has been removed) and re-entries into reference memory arms are indicative of working memory deficits. Alternatively, first entries into reference memory arms are indicative of reference memory deficits. We used this maze to compare performance of rats with neonatal brain injury and sham controls following induction of hypoxia-ischemia and show significant deficits in both working and reference memory after eleven days of testing. This protocol could be easily modified to examine many other models of learning impairment.
Behavior, Issue 82, working memory, reference memory, hypoxia-ischemia, radial arm maze, water maze
The Double-H Maze: A Robust Behavioral Test for Learning and Memory in Rodents
Institutions: University Hospital Freiburg, UMR 7364 Université de Strasbourg, CNRS, Neuropôle de Strasbourg.
Spatial cognition research in rodents typically employs the use of maze tasks, whose attributes vary from one maze to the next. These tasks vary by their behavioral flexibility and required memory duration, the number of goals and pathways, and also the overall task complexity. A confounding feature in many of these tasks is the lack of control over the strategy employed by the rodents to reach the goal, e.g.,
allocentric (declarative-like) or egocentric (procedural) based strategies. The double-H maze is a novel water-escape memory task that addresses this issue, by allowing the experimenter to direct the type of strategy learned during the training period. The double-H maze is a transparent device, which consists of a central alleyway with three arms protruding on both sides, along with an escape platform submerged at the extremity of one of these arms.
Rats can be trained using an allocentric strategy by alternating the start position in the maze in an unpredictable manner (see protocol 1; §4.7), thus requiring them to learn the location of the platform based on the available allothetic cues. Alternatively, an egocentric learning strategy (protocol 2; §4.8) can be employed by releasing the rats from the same position during each trial, until they learn the procedural pattern required to reach the goal. This task has been proven to allow for the formation of stable memory traces.
Memory can be probed following the training period in a misleading probe trial, in which the starting position for the rats alternates. Following an egocentric learning paradigm, rats typically resort to an allocentric-based strategy, but only when their initial view on the extra-maze cues differs markedly from their original position. This task is ideally suited to explore the effects of drugs/perturbations on allocentric/egocentric memory performance, as well as the interactions between these two memory systems.
Behavior, Issue 101, Double-H maze, spatial memory, procedural memory, consolidation, allocentric, egocentric, habits, rodents, video tracking system
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
Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g.
bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g.
distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e.
random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g.
shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation
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
Methods for the Modulation and Analysis of NF-κB-dependent Adult Neurogenesis
Institutions: University of Bielefeld, University of Bielefeld.
The hippocampus plays a pivotal role in the formation and consolidation of episodic memories, and in spatial orientation. Historically, the adult hippocampus has been viewed as a very static anatomical region of the mammalian brain. However, recent findings have demonstrated that the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus is an area of tremendous plasticity in adults, involving not only modifications of existing neuronal circuits, but also adult neurogenesis. This plasticity is regulated by complex transcriptional networks, in which the transcription factor NF-κB plays a prominent role. To study and manipulate adult neurogenesis, a transgenic mouse model for forebrain-specific neuronal inhibition of NF-κB activity can be used.
In this study, methods are described for the analysis of NF-κB-dependent neurogenesis, including its structural aspects, neuronal apoptosis and progenitor proliferation, and cognitive significance, which was specifically assessed via a dentate gyrus (DG)-dependent behavioral test, the spatial pattern separation-Barnes maze (SPS-BM). The SPS-BM protocol could be simply adapted for use with other transgenic animal models designed to assess the influence of particular genes on adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Furthermore, SPS-BM could be used in other experimental settings aimed at investigating and manipulating DG-dependent learning, for example, using pharmacological agents.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, NF-κB, hippocampus, Adult neurogenesis, spatial pattern separation-Barnes maze, dentate gyrus, p65 knock-out mice
T-maze Forced Alternation and Left-right Discrimination Tasks for Assessing Working and Reference Memory in Mice
Institutions: Fujita Health University, Japan Science and Technology Agency, Core Research for Evolutionary Science and Technology (CREST), National Institutes of Natural Sciences.
Forced alternation and left-right discrimination tasks using the T-maze have been widely used to assess working and reference memory, respectively, in rodents. In our laboratory, we evaluated the two types of memory in more than 30 strains of genetically engineered mice using the automated version of this apparatus. Here, we present the modified T-maze apparatus operated by a computer with a video-tracking system and our protocols in a movie format. The T-maze apparatus consists of runways partitioned off by sliding doors that can automatically open downward, each with a start box, a T-shaped alley, two boxes with automatic pellet dispensers at one side of the box, and two L-shaped alleys. Each L-shaped alley is connected to the start box so that mice can return to the start box, which excludes the effects of experimenter handling on mouse behavior. This apparatus also has an advantage that in vivo
microdialysis, in vivo
electrophysiology, and optogenetics techniques can be performed during T-maze performance because the doors are designed to go down into the floor. In this movie article, we describe T-maze tasks using the automated apparatus and the T-maze performance of α-CaMKII+/- mice, which are reported to show working memory deficits in the eight-arm radial maze task. Our data indicated that α-CaMKII+/- mice showed a working memory deficit, but no impairment of reference memory, and are consistent with previous findings using the eight-arm radial maze task, which supports the validity of our protocol. In addition, our data indicate that mutants tended to exhibit reversal learning deficits, suggesting that α-CaMKII deficiency causes reduced behavioral flexibility. Thus, the T-maze test using the modified automatic apparatus is useful for assessing working and reference memory and behavioral flexibility in mice.
Neuroscience, Issue 60, T-maze, learning, memory, behavioral flexibility, behavior, mouse
Quantifying Cognitive Decrements Caused by Cranial Radiotherapy
Institutions: University of California Irvine .
With the exception of survival, cognitive impairment stemming from the clinical management of cancer is a major factor dictating therapeutic outcome. For many patients afflicted with CNS and non-CNS malignancies, radiotherapy and chemotherapy offer the best options for disease control. These treatments however come at a cost, and nearly all cancer survivors (~11 million in the US alone as of 2006) incur some risk for developing cognitive dysfunction, with the most severe cases found in patients subjected to cranial radiotherapy (~200,000/yr) for the control of primary and metastatic brain tumors1
. Particularly problematic are pediatric cases, whose long-term survival plagued with marked cognitive decrements results in significant socioeconomic burdens2
. To date, there are still no satisfactory solutions to this significant clinical problem.
We have addressed this serious health concern using transplanted stem cells to combat radiation-induced cognitive decline in athymic rats subjected to cranial irradiation3
. Details of the stereotaxic irradiation and the in vitro culturing and transplantation of human neural stem cells (hNSCs) can be found in our companion paper (Acharya et al., JoVE reference). Following irradiation and transplantation surgery, rats are then assessed for changes in cognition, grafted cell survival and expression of differentiation-specific markers 1 and 4-months after irradiation. To critically evaluate the success or failure of any potential intervention designed to ameliorate radiation-induced cognitive sequelae, a rigorous series of quantitative cognitive tasks must be performed. To accomplish this, we subject our animals to a suite of cognitive testing paradigms including novel place recognition, water maze, elevated plus maze and fear conditioning, in order to quantify hippocampal and non-hippocampal learning and memory. We have demonstrated the utility of these tests for quantifying specific types of cognitive decrements in irradiated animals, and used them to show that animals engrafted with hNSCs exhibit significant improvements in cognitive function3
The cognitive benefits derived from engrafted human stem cells suggest that similar strategies may one day provide much needed clinical recourse to cancer survivors suffering from impaired cognition. Accordingly, we have provided written and visual documentation of the critical steps used in our cognitive testing paradigms to facilitate the translation of our promising results into the clinic.
Medicine, Issue 56, neuroscience, radiotherapy, cognitive dysfunction, hippocampus, novel place recognition, elevated plus maze, fear conditioning, water maze
Morris Water Maze Test for Learning and Memory Deficits in Alzheimer's Disease Model Mice
Institutions: University of British Columbia.
The Morris Water Maze (MWM) was first established by neuroscientist Richard G. Morris in 1981 in order to test hippocampal-dependent learning, including acquisition of spatial memoryand long-term spatial memory 1
. The MWM is a relatively simple procedure typically consisting of six day trials, the main advantage being the differentiation between the spatial (hidden-platform) and non-spatial (visible platform) conditions 2-4
. In addition, the MWM testing environment reduces odor trail interference 5
. This has led the task to be used extensively in the study of the neurobiology and neuropharmacology of spatial learning and memory. The MWM plays an important role in the validation of rodent models for neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease 6, 7
. In this protocol we discussed the typical procedure of MWM for testing learning and memory and data analysis commonly used in Alzheimer’s disease transgenic model mice.
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Morris Water Maze, spatial memory testing, hippocampal dependent learning, Alzheimer's Disease
Assaying Locomotor, Learning, and Memory Deficits in Drosophila Models of Neurodegeneration
Institutions: University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine.
Advances in genetic methods have enabled the study of genes involved in human neurodegenerative diseases using Drosophila
as a model system1
. Most of these diseases, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease are characterized by age-dependent deterioration in learning and memory functions and movement coordination2
. Here we use behavioral assays, including the negative geotaxis assay3
and the aversive phototaxic suppression assay (APS assay)4,5
, to show that some of the behavior characteristics associated with human neurodegeneration can be recapitulated in flies. In the negative geotaxis assay, the natural tendency of flies to move against gravity when agitated is utilized to study genes or conditions that may hinder locomotor capacities. In the APS assay, the learning and memory functions are tested in positively-phototactic flies trained to associate light with aversive bitter taste and hence avoid this otherwise natural tendency to move toward light. Testing these trained flies 6 hours post-training is used to assess memory functions. Using these assays, the contribution of any genetic or environmental factors toward developing neurodegeneration can be easily studied in flies.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, Geotaxis, phototaxis, behavior, Tau
Morris Water Maze Experiment
Institutions: Michigan State University (MSU).
The Morris water maze is widely used to study spatial memory and learning. Animals are placed in a pool of water that is colored opaque with powdered non-fat milk or non-toxic tempera paint, where they must swim to a hidden escape platform. Because they are in opaque water, the animals cannot see the platform, and cannot rely on scent to find the escape route. Instead, they must rely on external/extra-maze cues. As the animals become more familiar with the task, they are able to find the platform more quickly. Developed by Richard G. Morris in 1984, this paradigm has become one of the "gold standards" of behavioral neuroscience.
Behavior, Issue 19, Declarative, Hippocampus, Memory, Procedural, Rodent, Spatial Learning