Movements are the main measurable output of central nervous system function. Developing behavioral paradigms that allow detailed analysis of motor learning and execution is of critical importance in order to understand the principles and processes that underlie motor function. Here we present a paradigm to study movement acquisition within a daily session of training (within-session) representing the fast learning component and primary acquisition as well as skilled motor learning over several training sessions (between-session) representing the slow learning component and consolidation of the learned task. This behavioral paradigm increases the degree of difficulty and complexity of the motor skill task due to two features: First, the animal realigns its body prior to each pellet retrieval forcing renewed orientation and preventing movement execution from the same angle. Second, pellets are grasped from a vertical post that matches the diameter of the pellet and is placed in front of the cage. This requires a precise grasp for successful pellet retrieval and thus prevents simple pulling of the pellet towards the animal. In combination with novel genetics, imaging and electrophysiological technologies, this behavioral method will aid to understand the morphological, anatomical and molecular underpinnings of motor learning and memory.
17 Related JoVE Articles!
Compensatory Limb Use and Behavioral Assessment of Motor Skill Learning Following Sensorimotor Cortex Injury in a Mouse Model of Ischemic Stroke
Institutions: Illinois Wesleyan University, University of Victoria.
Mouse models have become increasingly popular in the field of behavioral neuroscience, and specifically in studies of experimental stroke. As models advance, it is important to develop sensitive behavioral measures specific to the mouse. The present protocol describes a skilled motor task for use in mouse models of stroke. The Pasta Matrix Reaching Task functions as a versatile and sensitive behavioral assay that permits experimenters to collect accurate outcome data and manipulate limb use to mimic human clinical phenomena including compensatory strategies (i.e.
, learned non-use) and focused rehabilitative training. When combined with neuroanatomical tools, this task also permits researchers to explore the mechanisms that support behavioral recovery of function (or lack thereof) following stroke. The task is both simple and affordable to set up and conduct, offering a variety of training and testing options for numerous research questions concerning functional outcome following injury. Though the task has been applied to mouse models of stroke, it may also be beneficial in studies of functional outcome in other upper extremity injury models.
Behavior, Issue 89, Upper extremity impairment, Murine model, Rehabilitation, Reaching, Non-paretic limb training, Good limb training, Less-affected limb training, Learned non-use, Pasta matrix reaching task
Two-Photon in vivo Imaging of Dendritic Spines in the Mouse Cortex Using a Thinned-skull Preparation
Institutions: University of California, Santa Cruz.
In the mammalian cortex, neurons form extremely complicated networks and exchange information at synapses. Changes in synaptic strength, as well as addition/removal of synapses, occur in an experience-dependent manner, providing the structural foundation of neuronal plasticity. As postsynaptic components of the most excitatory synapses in the cortex, dendritic spines are considered to be a good proxy of synapses. Taking advantages of mouse genetics and fluorescent labeling techniques, individual neurons and their synaptic structures can be labeled in the intact brain. Here we introduce a transcranial imaging protocol using two-photon laser scanning microscopy to follow fluorescently labeled postsynaptic dendritic spines over time in vivo
. This protocol utilizes a thinned-skull preparation, which keeps the skull intact and avoids inflammatory effects caused by exposure of the meninges and the cortex. Therefore, images can be acquired immediately after surgery is performed. The experimental procedure can be performed repetitively over various time intervals ranging from hours to years. The application of this preparation can also be expanded to investigate different cortical regions and layers, as well as other cell types, under physiological and pathological conditions.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, dendritic spine, mouse cortex, in vivo, two-photon microscopy, thinned-skull, imaging
Study Motor Skill Learning by Single-pellet Reaching Tasks in Mice
Institutions: University of California, Santa Cruz.
Reaching for and retrieving objects require precise and coordinated motor movements in the forelimb. When mice are repeatedly trained to grasp and retrieve food rewards positioned at a specific location, their motor performance (defined as accuracy and speed) improves progressively over time, and plateaus after persistent training. Once such reaching skill is mastered, its further maintenance does not require constant practice. Here we introduce a single-pellet reaching task to study the acquisition and maintenance of skilled forelimb movements in mice. In this video, we first describe the behaviors of mice that are commonly encountered in this learning and memory paradigm, and then discuss how to categorize these behaviors and quantify the observed results. Combined with mouse genetics, this paradigm can be utilized as a behavioral platform to explore the anatomical underpinnings, physiological properties, and molecular mechanisms of learning and memory.
Behavior, Issue 85, mouse, neuroscience, motor skill learning, single-pellet reaching, forelimb movements, Learning and Memory
Analysis of Dendritic Spine Morphology in Cultured CNS Neurons
Institutions: Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Dendritic spines are the sites of the majority of excitatory connections within the brain, and form the post-synaptic
compartment of synapses. These structures are rich in actin and have been shown to be highly dynamic. In response to classical Hebbian plasticity
as well as neuromodulatory signals, dendritic spines can change shape and number, which is thought to be critical for the refinement of neural
circuits and the processing and storage of information within the brain. Within dendritic spines, a complex network of proteins link extracellular
signals with the actin cyctoskeleton allowing for control of dendritic spine morphology and number. Neuropathological studies have demonstrated that
a number of disease states, ranging from schizophrenia to autism spectrum disorders, display abnormal dendritic spine morphology or numbers.
Moreover, recent genetic studies have identified mutations in numerous genes that encode synaptic proteins, leading to suggestions that these
proteins may contribute to aberrant spine plasticity that, in part, underlie the pathophysiology of these disorders. In order to study the potential
role of these proteins in controlling dendritic spine morphologies/number, the use of cultured cortical neurons offers several advantages. Firstly,
this system allows for high-resolution imaging of dendritic spines in fixed cells as well as time-lapse imaging of live cells. Secondly, this in
vitro system allows for easy manipulation of protein function by expression of mutant proteins, knockdown by shRNA constructs, or pharmacological
treatments. These techniques allow researchers to begin to dissect the role of disease-associated proteins and to predict how mutations of these
proteins may function in vivo
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Excitatory synapse, neuroscience, brain, cortex, cortical neurons, primary culture, confocal microscopy, time-lapse imaging, remodeling.
Immunohistochemical Visualization of Hippocampal Neuron Activity After Spatial Learning in a Mouse Model of Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Institutions: University of Trento, CNR Neuroscience Institute, Pisa, Italy.
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.
Neuroscience, Issue 99, Immunohistochemistry, Morris water maze, ERK, hippocampus, cognition, memory, autism
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
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
Modulating Cognition Using Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation of the Cerebellum
Institutions: University of Birmingham.
Numerous studies have emerged recently that demonstrate the possibility of modulating, and in some cases enhancing, cognitive processes by exciting brain regions involved in working memory and attention using transcranial electrical brain stimulation. Some researchers now believe the cerebellum supports cognition, possibly via a remote neuromodulatory effect on the prefrontal cortex. This paper describes a procedure for investigating a role for the cerebellum in cognition using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), and a selection of information-processing tasks of varying task difficulty, which have previously been shown to involve working memory, attention and cerebellar functioning. One task is called the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Task (PASAT) and the other a novel variant of this task called the Paced Auditory Serial Subtraction Task (PASST). A verb generation task and its two controls (noun and verb reading) were also investigated. All five tasks were performed by three separate groups of participants, before and after the modulation of cortico-cerebellar connectivity using anodal, cathodal or sham tDCS over the right cerebellar cortex. The procedure demonstrates how performance (accuracy, verbal response latency and variability) could be selectively improved after cathodal stimulation, but only during tasks that the participants rated as difficult, and not easy. Performance was unchanged by anodal or sham stimulation. These findings demonstrate a role for the cerebellum in cognition, whereby activity in the left prefrontal cortex is likely dis-inhibited by cathodal tDCS over the right cerebellar cortex. Transcranial brain stimulation is growing in popularity in various labs and clinics. However, the after-effects of tDCS are inconsistent between individuals and not always polarity-specific, and may even be task- or load-specific, all of which requires further study. Future efforts might also be guided towards neuro-enhancement in cerebellar patients presenting with cognitive impairment once a better understanding of brain stimulation mechanisms has emerged.
Behavior, Issue 96, Cognition, working memory, tDCS, cerebellum, brain stimulation, neuro-modulation, neuro-enhancement
Rapid Genotyping of Animals Followed by Establishing Primary Cultures of Brain Neurons
Institutions: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, EZ BioResearch LLC.
High-resolution analysis of the morphology and function of mammalian neurons often requires the genotyping of individual animals followed by the analysis of primary cultures of neurons. We describe a set of procedures for: labeling newborn mice to be genotyped, rapid genotyping, and establishing low-density cultures of brain neurons from these mice. Individual mice are labeled by tattooing, which allows for long-term identification lasting into adulthood. Genotyping by the described protocol is fast and efficient, and allows for automated extraction of nucleic acid with good reliability. This is useful under circumstances where sufficient time for conventional genotyping is not available, e.g.,
in mice that suffer from neonatal lethality. Primary neuronal cultures are generated at low density, which enables imaging experiments at high spatial resolution. This culture method requires the preparation of glial feeder layers prior to neuronal plating. The protocol is applied in its entirety to a mouse model of the movement disorder DYT1 dystonia (ΔE-torsinA knock-in mice), and neuronal cultures are prepared from the hippocampus, cerebral cortex and striatum of these mice. This protocol can be applied to mice with other genetic mutations, as well as to animals of other species. Furthermore, individual components of the protocol can be used for isolated sub-projects. Thus this protocol will have wide applications, not only in neuroscience but also in other fields of biological and medical sciences.
Neuroscience, Issue 95, AP2, genotyping, glial feeder layer, mouse tail, neuronal culture, nucleic-acid extraction, PCR, tattoo, torsinA
Flat-floored Air-lifted Platform: A New Method for Combining Behavior with Microscopy or Electrophysiology on Awake Freely Moving Rodents
Institutions: University of Helsinki, Neurotar LTD, University of Eastern Finland, University of Helsinki.
It is widely acknowledged that the use of general anesthetics can undermine the relevance of electrophysiological or microscopical data obtained from a living animal’s brain. Moreover, the lengthy recovery from anesthesia limits the frequency of repeated recording/imaging episodes in longitudinal studies. Hence, new methods that would allow stable recordings from non-anesthetized behaving mice are expected to advance the fields of cellular and cognitive neurosciences. Existing solutions range from mere physical restraint to more sophisticated approaches, such as linear and spherical treadmills used in combination with computer-generated virtual reality. Here, a novel method is described where a head-fixed mouse can move around an air-lifted mobile homecage and explore its environment under stress-free conditions. This method allows researchers to perform behavioral tests (e.g.
, learning, habituation or novel object recognition) simultaneously with two-photon microscopic imaging and/or patch-clamp recordings, all combined in a single experiment. This video-article describes the use of the awake animal head fixation device (mobile homecage), demonstrates the procedures of animal habituation, and exemplifies a number of possible applications of the method.
Empty Value, Issue 88, awake, in vivo two-photon microscopy, blood vessels, dendrites, dendritic spines, Ca2+ imaging, intrinsic optical imaging, patch-clamp
The Structure of Skilled Forelimb Reaching in the Rat: A Movement Rating Scale
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
Skilled reaching for food is an evolutionary ancient act and is displayed by many animal species, including those in the sister clades of rodents and primates. The video describes a test situation that allows filming of repeated acts of reaching for food by the rat that has been mildly food deprived. A rat is trained to reach through a slot in a holding box for food pellet that it grasps and then places in its mouth for eating. Reaching is accomplished in the main by proximally driven movements of the limb but distal limb movements are used for pronating the paw, grasping the food, and releasing the food into the mouth. Each reach is divided into at least 10 movements of the forelimb and the reaching act is facilitated by postural adjustments. Each of the movements is described and examples of the movements are given from a number of viewing perspectives. By rating each movement element on a 3-point scale, the reach can be quantified. A number of studies have demonstrated that the movement elements are altered by motor system damage, including damage to the motor cortex, basal ganglia, brainstem, and spinal cord. The movements are also altered in neurological conditions that can be modeled in the rat, including Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Thus, the rating scale is useful for quantifying motor impairments and the effectiveness of neural restoration and rehabilitation. Because the reaching act for the rat is very similar to that displayed by humans and nonhuman primates, the scale can be used for comparative purposes. from a number of viewing perspectives. By rating each movement element on a 3-point scale, the reach can be quantified. A number of studies have demonstrated that the movement elements are altered by motor system damage, including damage to the motor cortex, basal ganglia, brainstem, and spinal cord. The movements are also altered in neurological conditions that can be modeled in the rat, including Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Thus, the rating scale is useful for quantifying motor impairments and the effectiveness of neural restoration and rehabilitation.
Experiments on animals were performed in accordance with the guidelines and regulations set forth by the University of Lethbridge Animal Care Committee in accordance with the regulations of the Canadian Council on Animal Care.
Neuroscience, Issue 18, rat skilled reaching, rat reaching scale, rat, rat movement element rating scale, reaching elements
The 5-Choice Serial Reaction Time Task: A Task of Attention and Impulse Control for Rodents
Institutions: Oberlin College.
This protocol describes the 5-choice serial reaction time task, which is an operant based task used to study attention and impulse control in rodents. Test day challenges, modifications to the standard task, can be used to systematically tax the neural systems controlling either attention or impulse control. Importantly, these challenges have consistent effects on behavior across laboratories in intact animals and can reveal either enhancements or deficits in cognitive function that are not apparent when rats are only tested on the standard task. The variety of behavioral measures that are collected can be used to determine if other factors (i.e
., sedation, motivation deficits, locomotor impairments) are contributing to changes in performance. The versatility of the 5CSRTT is further enhanced because it is amenable to combination with pharmacological, molecular, and genetic techniques.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, attention, impulse control, neuroscience, cognition, rodent
The Ladder Rung Walking Task: A Scoring System and its Practical Application.
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
Progress in the development of animal models for/stroke, spinal cord injury, and other neurodegenerative disease requires tests of high sensitivity to elaborate distinct aspects of motor function and to determine even subtle loss of movement capacity. To enhance efficacy and resolution of testing, tests should permit qualitative and quantitative measures of motor function and be sensitive to changes in performance during recovery periods. The present study describes a new task to assess skilled walking in the rat to measure both forelimb and hindlimb function at the same time. Animals are required to walk along a horizontal ladder on which the spacing of the rungs is variable and is periodically changed. Changes in rung spacing prevent animals from learning the absolute and relative location of the rungs and so minimize the ability of the animals to compensate for impairments through learning. In addition, changing the spacing between the rungs allows the test to be used repeatedly in long-term studies. Methods are described for both quantitative and qualitative description of both fore- and hindlimb performance, including limb placing, stepping, co-ordination. Furthermore, use of compensatory strategies is indicated by missteps or compensatory steps in response to another limb’s misplacement.
Neuroscience, Issue 28, rat, animal model of walking, skilled movement, ladder test, rung test, neuroscience
TMS: Using the Theta-Burst Protocol to Explore Mechanism of Plasticity in Individuals with Fragile X Syndrome and Autism
Institutions: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), also known as Martin-Bell Syndrome
, is a genetic abnormality found on the X chromosome.1,2
Individuals suffering from FXS display abnormalities in the expression of FMR1 - a protein required for typical, healthy neural development.3
Recent data has suggested that the loss of this protein can cause the cortex to be hyperexcitable thereby affecting overall patterns of neural plasticity.4,5
In addition, Fragile X shows a strong comorbidity with autism: in fact, 30% of children with FXS are diagnosed with autism, and 2 - 5% of autistic children suffer from FXS.6
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (a non-invasive neurostimulatory and neuromodulatory technique that can transiently or lastingly modulate cortical excitability via the application of localized magnetic field pulses 7,8
) represents a unique method of exploring plasticity and the manifestations of FXS within affected individuals. More specifically, Theta-Burst Stimulation (TBS), a specific stimulatory protocol shown to modulate cortical plasticity for a duration up to 30 minutes after stimulation cessation in healthy populations, has already proven an efficacious tool in the exploration of abnormal plasticity.9,10
Recent studies have shown the effects of TBS last considerably longer in individuals on the autistic spectrum - up to 90 minutes.11
This extended effect-duration suggests an underlying abnormality in the brain's natural plasticity state in autistic individuals - similar to the hyperexcitability induced by Fragile X Syndrome.
In this experiment, utilizing single-pulse motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) as our benchmark, we will explore the effects of both intermittent and continuous TBS on cortical plasticity in individuals suffering from FXS and individuals on the Autistic Spectrum.
Neuroscience, Issue 46, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Theta-Burst Stimulation, Neural Plasticity, Fragile X, Autism
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
ALS - Motor Neuron Disease: Mechanism and Development of New Therapies
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
Medicine, Issue 6, Translational Research, Neuroscience, ALS, stem cells, brain, neuron, upper motor neuron, transplantation