Operant methods are powerful behavioral tools for the study of motivated behavior. These 'self-administration' methods have been used extensively in drug addiction research due to their high construct validity. Operant studies provide researchers a tool for preclinical investigation of several aspects of the addiction process. For example, mechanisms of acute reinforcement (both drug and non-drug) can be tested using pharmacological or genetic tools to determine the ability of a molecular target to influence self-administration behavior1-6. Additionally, drug or food seeking behaviors can be studied in the absence of the primary reinforcer, and the ability of pharmacological compounds to disrupt this process is a preclinical model for discovery of molecular targets and compounds that may be useful for the treatment of addiction3,7-9. One problem with performing intravenous drug self-administration studies in the mouse is the technical difficulty of maintaining catheter patency. Attrition rates in these experiments are high and can reach 40% or higher10-15. Another general problem with drug self-administration is discerning which pharmacologically-induced effects of the reinforcer produce specific behaviors. For example, measurement of the reinforcing and neurological effects of psychostimulants can be confounded by their psychomotor effects. Operant methods using food reinforcement can avoid these pitfalls, although their utility in studying drug addiction is limited by the fact that some manipulations that alter drug self-administration have a minimal impact on food self-administration. For example, mesolimbic dopamine lesion or knockout of the D1 dopamine receptor reduce cocaine self-administration without having a significant impact on food self-administration 12,16.
Sensory stimuli have been described for their ability to support operant responding as primary reinforcers (i.e. not conditioned reinforcers)17-22. Auditory and visual stimuli are self-administered by several species18,21,23, although surprisingly little is known about the neural mechanisms underlying this reinforcement. The operant sensation seeking (OSS) model is a robust model for obtaining sensory self-administration in the mouse, allowing the study of neural mechanisms important in sensory reinforcement24. An additional advantage of OSS is the ability to screen mutant mice for differences in operant behavior that may be relevant to addiction. We have reported that dopamine D1 receptor knockout mice, previously shown to be deficient in psychostimulant self-administration, also fail to acquire OSS24. This is a unique finding in that these mice are capable of learning an operant task when food is used as a reinforcer. While operant studies using food reinforcement can be useful in the study of general motivated behavior and the mechanisms underlying food reinforcement, as mentioned above, these studies are limited in their application to studying molecular mechanisms of drug addiction. Thus, there may be similar neural substrates mediating sensory and psychostimulant reinforcement that are distinct from food reinforcement, which would make OSS a particularly attractive model for the study of drug addiction processes. The degree of overlap between other molecular targets of OSS and drug reinforcers is unclear, but is a topic that we are currently pursuing. While some aspects of addiction such as resistance to extinction may be observed with OSS, we have found that escalation 25 is not observed in this model24. Interestingly, escalation of intake and some other aspects of addiction are observed with self-administration of sucrose26. Thus, when non-drug operant procedures are desired to study addiction-related processes, food or sensory reinforcers can be chosen to best fit the particular question being asked.
In conclusion, both food self-administration and OSS in the mouse have the advantage of not requiring an intravenous catheter, which allows a higher throughput means to study the effects of pharmacological or genetic manipulation of neural targets involved in motivation. While operant testing using food as a reinforcer is particularly useful in the study of the regulation of food intake, OSS is particularly apt for studying reinforcement mechanisms of sensory stimuli and may have broad applicability to novelty seeking and addiction.
15 Related JoVE Articles!
A Procedure for Studying the Footshock-Induced Reinstatement of Cocaine Seeking in Laboratory Rats
Institutions: University of Toronto Scarborough.
The most insidious aspect of drug addiction is the high propensity for relapse. Animal models of relapse, known as reinstatement procedures, have been used extensively to study the neurobiology and phenomenology of relapse to drug use. Although procedural variations have emerged over the past several decades, the most conventional reinstatement procedures are based on the drug self-administration (SA) model. In this model, an animal is trained to perform an operant response to obtain drug. Subsequently, the behavior is extinguished by withholding response-contingent reinforcement. Reinstatement of drug seeking is then triggered by a discrete event, such as an injection of the training drug, re-exposure to drug-associated cues, or exposure to a stressor 1
Reinstatement procedures were originally developed to study the ability of acute non-contingent exposure to the training drug to reinstate drug seeking in rats and monkeys 1, 2
. Reinstatement procedures have since been modified to study the role of environmental stimuli, including drug-associated cues and exposure to various forms of stress, in relapse to drug seeking 1, 3, 4
Over the past 15 years, a major focus of the reinstatement literature has been on the role of stress in drug relapse. One of the most commonly used forms of stress for studying this relationship is acute exposures to mild, intermittent, electric footshocks. The ability of footshock stress to induce reinstatement of drug seeking was originally demonstrated by Shaham and colleagues (1995) in rats with a history of intravenous heroin SA5
. Subsequently, the effect was generalized to rats with histories of intravenous cocaine, methamphetamine, and nicotine SA, as well as oral ethanol SA 3, 6
Although footshock-induced reinstatement of drug seeking can be achieved reliably and robustly, it is an effect that tends to be sensitive to certain parametrical variables. These include the arrangement of extinction and reinstatement test sessions, the intensity and duration of footshock stress, and the presence of drug-associated cues during extinction and testing for reinstatement. Here we present a protocol for footshock-induced reinstatement of cocaine seeking that we have used with consistent success to study the relationship between stress and cocaine seeking.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Relapse, Reinstatement, Cocaine, Rat, Footshock, Stress, Intravenous, Self-administration, Operant Conditioning
Assessment of Social Interaction Behaviors
Institutions: Mount Sinai Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Toronto.
Social interactions are a fundamental and adaptive component of the biology of numerous species. Social recognition is critical for the structure and stability of the networks and relationships that define societies. For animals, such as mice, recognition of conspecifics may be important for maintaining social hierarchy and for mate choice 1
A variety of neuropsychiatric disorders are characterized by disruptions in social behavior and social recognition, including depression, autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and schizophrenia. Studies of humans as well as animal models (e.g., Drosophila melanogaster
, Caenorhabditis elegans
, Mus musculus
, Rattus norvegicus
) have identified genes involved in the regulation of social behavior 2
. To assess sociability in animal models, several behavioral tests have been developed (reviewed in 3
). Integrative research using animal models and appropriate tests for social behavior may lead to the development of improved treatments for social psychopathologies.
The three-chamber paradigm test known as Crawley's sociability and preference for social novelty protocol has been successfully employed to study social affiliation and social memory in several inbred and mutant mouse lines (e.g. 4-7
). The main principle of this test is based on the free choice by a subject mouse to spend time in any of three box's compartments during two experimental sessions, including indirect contact with one or two mice with which it is unfamiliar. To quantitate social tendencies of the experimental mouse, the main tasks are to measure a) the time spent with a novel conspecific and b) preference for a novel vs. a familiar conspecific. Thus, the experimental design of this test allows evaluation of two critical but distinguishable aspects of social behavior, such as social affiliation/motivation, as well as social memory and novelty. "Sociability" in this case is defined as propensity to spend time with another mouse, as compared to time spent alone in an identical but empty chamber 7
. "Preference for social novelty" is defined as propensity to spend time with a previously unencountered mouse rather than with a familiar mouse 7
. This test provides robust results, which then must be carefully analyzed, interpreted and supported/confirmed by alternative sociability tests. In addition to specific applications, Crawley's sociability test can be included as an important component of general behavioral screen of mutant mice.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, Mice, behavioral test, phenotyping, social interaction
Use of the Operant Orofacial Pain Assessment Device (OPAD) to Measure Changes in Nociceptive Behavior
Institutions: University of Florida College of Dentistry, University of Florida College of Medicine , Stoelting Co., University of Florida .
We present an operant system for the detection of pain in awake, conscious rodents. The Orofacial Pain Assessment Device (OPAD) assesses pain behaviors in a more clinically relevant way by not relying on reflex-based measures of nociception. Food fasted, hairless (or shaved) rodents are placed into a Plexiglas chamber which has two Peltier-based thermodes that can be programmed to any temperature between 7 °C and 60 °C. The rodent is trained to make contact with these in order to access a reward bottle. During a session, a number of behavioral pain outcomes are automatically recorded and saved. These measures include the number of reward bottle activations (licks) and facial contact stimuli (face contacts), but custom measures like the lick/face ratio (total number of licks per session/total number of contacts) can also be created. The stimulus temperature can be set to a single temperature or multiple temperatures within a session. The OPAD is a high-throughput, easy to use operant assay which will lead to better translation of pain research in the future as it includes cortical input instead of relying on spinal reflex-based nociceptive assays.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Surgery, Neurologic Manifestations, Pain, Chronic Pain, Nociceptive Pain, Acute Pain, Pain Perception, Operant, mouse, rat, analgesia, nociception, thermal, hyperalgesia, animal model
Fat Preference: A Novel Model of Eating Behavior in Rats
Institutions: University of Texas Medical Branch.
Obesity is a growing problem in the United States of America, with more than a third of the population classified as obese. One factor contributing to this multifactorial disorder is the consumption of a high fat diet, a behavior that has been shown to increase both caloric intake and body fat content. However, the elements regulating preference for high fat food over other foods remain understudied.
To overcome this deficit, a model to quickly and easily test changes in the preference for dietary fat was developed. The Fat Preference model presents rats with a series of choices between foods with differing fat content. Like humans, rats have a natural bias toward consuming high fat food, making the rat model ideal for translational studies. Changes in preference can be ascribed to the effect of either genetic differences or pharmacological interventions. This model allows for the exploration of determinates of fat preference and screening pharmacotherapeutic agents that influence acquisition of obesity.
Behavior, Issue 88, obesity, fat, preference, choice, diet, macronutrient, animal model
Novel Apparatus and Method for Drug Reinforcement
Institutions: University of Texas at Austin.
Animal models of reinforcement have proven to be useful for understanding the neurobiological mechanisms underlying drug addiction. Operant drug self-administration and conditioned place preference (CPP) procedures are expansively used in animal research to model various components of drug reinforcement, consumption, and addiction in humans. For this study, we used a novel approach to studying drug reinforcement in rats by combining traditional CPP and self-administration methodologies. We assembled an apparatus using two Med Associate operant chambers, sensory stimuli, and a Plexiglas-constructed neutral zone. These modifications allowed our experiments to encompass motivational aspects of drug intake through self-administration and drug-free assessment of drug/cue conditioning strength with the CPP test. In our experiments, rats self-administered cocaine (0.75 mg/kg/inj, i.v.) during either four (e.g., the "short-term") or eight (e.g., the "long-term") alternating-day sessions in an operant environment containing distinctive sensory cues (e.g., olfactory and visual). On the alternate days, in the other (differently-cued) operant environment, saline was available for self-infusion (0.1 ml, i.v.). Twenty-four hours after the last self-administration/cue-pairing session, a CPP test was conducted. Consistent with typical CPP findings, there was a significant preference for the chamber associated with cocaine self-administration. In addition, in animals undergoing the long-term experiment, a significant positive correlation between CPP magnitude and the number of cocaine-reinforced lever responses. In conclusion, this apparatus and approach is time and cost effective, can be used to examine a wide array of topics pertaining to drug abuse, and provides more flexibility in experimental design than CPP or self-administration methods alone.
Neuroscience, Issue 42, conditioned place preference (CPP), self-administration, rat, behavioral neuroscience, drug reinforcement, cocaine, animal models
A General Method for Evaluating Incubation of Sucrose Craving in Rats
Institutions: Western Washington University.
For someone on a food-restricted diet, food craving in response to food-paired cues may serve as a key behavioral transition point between abstinence and relapse to food taking 1
. Food craving conceptualized in this way is akin to drug craving in response to drug-paired cues. A rich literature has been developed around understanding the behavioral and neurobiological determinants of drug craving; we and others have been focusing recently on translating techniques from basic addiction research to better understand addiction-like behaviors related to food 2-4
As done in previous studies of drug craving, we examine sucrose craving behavior by utilizing a rat model of relapse. In this model, rats self-administer either drug or food in sessions over several days. In a session, lever responding delivers the reward along with a tone+light stimulus. Craving behavior is then operationally defined as responding in a subsequent session where the reward is not available. Rats will reliably respond for the tone+light stimulus, likely due to its acquired conditioned reinforcing properties 5
. This behavior is sometimes referred to as sucrose seeking or cue reactivity. In the present discussion we will use the term "sucrose craving" to subsume both of these constructs.
In the past decade, we have focused on how the length of time following reward self-administration influences reward craving. Interestingly, rats increase responding for the reward-paired cue over the course of several weeks of a period of forced-abstinence. This "incubation of craving" is observed in rats that have self-administered either food or drugs of abuse 4,6
. This time-dependent increase in craving we have identified in the animal model may have great potential relevance to human drug and food addiction behaviors.
Here we present a protocol for assessing incubation of sucrose craving in rats. Variants of the procedure will be indicated where craving is assessed as responding for a discrete sucrose-paired cue following extinction of lever pressing within the sucrose self-administration context (Extinction without cues) or as responding for sucrose-paired cues in a general extinction context (Extinction with cues).
Neuroscience, Issue 57, addiction, craving, cue-reactivity, extinction, reinstatement, relapse, sucrose seeking
Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio
) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc
. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
A Procedure to Study the Effect of Prolonged Food Restriction on Heroin Seeking in Abstinent Rats
Institutions: Concordia University.
In human drug addicts, exposure to drug-associated cues or environments that were previously associated with drug taking can trigger relapse during abstinence. Moreover, various environmental challenges can exacerbate this effect, as well as increase ongoing drug intake.
The procedure we describe here highlights the impact of a common environmental challenge, food restriction, on drug craving that is expressed as an augmentation of drug seeking in abstinent rats.
Rats are implanted with chronic intravenous i.v. catheters, and then trained to press a lever for
i.v. heroin over a period of 10-12 days. Following the heroin self-administration phase the rats are removed from the operant conditioning chambers and housed in the animal care facility for a period of at least 14 days. While one group is maintained under unrestricted access to food (sated group), a second group (FDR group) is exposed to a mild food restriction regimen that results in their body weights maintained at 90% of their nonrestricted body weight. On day 14 of food restriction the rats are transferred back to the drug-training environment, and a drug-seeking test is run under extinction conditions (i.e
. lever presses do not result in heroin delivery).
The procedure presented here results in a highly robust augmentation of heroin seeking on test day in the food restricted rats. In addition, compared to the acute food deprivation manipulations we have used before, the current procedure is a more clinically relevant model for the impact of caloric restriction on drug seeking. Moreover, it might be closer to the human condition as the rats are not required to go through an extinction-training phase before the drug-seeking test, which is an integral component of the popular reinstatement procedure.
Behavior, Issue 81, Animal, Drug-Seeking Behavior, Fasting, Substance-Related Disorders, behavioral neuroscience, self-administration, intravenous, drugs, relapse, food restriction
Long-term Behavioral Tracking of Freely Swimming Weakly Electric Fish
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Long-term behavioral tracking can capture and quantify natural animal behaviors, including those occurring infrequently. Behaviors such as exploration and social interactions can be best studied by observing unrestrained, freely behaving animals. Weakly electric fish (WEF) display readily observable exploratory and social behaviors by emitting electric organ discharge (EOD). Here, we describe three effective techniques to synchronously measure the EOD, body position, and posture of a free-swimming WEF for an extended period of time. First, we describe the construction of an experimental tank inside of an isolation chamber designed to block external sources of sensory stimuli such as light, sound, and vibration. The aquarium was partitioned to accommodate four test specimens, and automated gates remotely control the animals' access to the central arena. Second, we describe a precise and reliable real-time EOD timing measurement method from freely swimming WEF. Signal distortions caused by the animal's body movements are corrected by spatial averaging and temporal processing stages. Third, we describe an underwater near-infrared imaging setup to observe unperturbed nocturnal animal behaviors. Infrared light pulses were used to synchronize the timing between the video and the physiological signal over a long recording duration. Our automated tracking software measures the animal's body position and posture reliably in an aquatic scene. In combination, these techniques enable long term observation of spontaneous behavior of freely swimming weakly electric fish in a reliable and precise manner. We believe our method can be similarly applied to the study of other aquatic animals by relating their physiological signals with exploratory or social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, animal tracking, weakly electric fish, electric organ discharge, underwater infrared imaging, automated image tracking, sensory isolation chamber, exploratory behavior
Creating Dynamic Images of Short-lived Dopamine Fluctuations with lp-ntPET: Dopamine Movies of Cigarette Smoking
Institutions: Yale University, Yale University, Yale University, Yale University, Massachusetts General Hospital, University of California, Irvine.
We describe experimental and statistical steps for creating dopamine movies of the brain from dynamic PET data. The movies represent minute-to-minute fluctuations of dopamine induced by smoking a cigarette. The smoker is imaged during a natural smoking experience while other possible confounding effects (such as head motion, expectation, novelty, or aversion to smoking repeatedly) are minimized.
We present the details of our unique analysis. Conventional methods for PET analysis estimate time-invariant kinetic model parameters which cannot capture short-term fluctuations in neurotransmitter release. Our analysis - yielding a dopamine movie - is based on our work with kinetic models and other decomposition techniques that allow for time-varying parameters 1-7
. This aspect of the analysis - temporal-variation - is key to our work. Because our model is also linear in parameters, it is practical, computationally, to apply at the voxel level. The analysis technique is comprised of five main steps: pre-processing, modeling, statistical comparison, masking and visualization. Preprocessing is applied to the PET data with a unique 'HYPR' spatial filter 8
that reduces spatial noise but preserves critical temporal information. Modeling identifies the time-varying function that best describes the dopamine effect on 11
C-raclopride uptake. The statistical step compares the fit of our (lp-ntPET) model 7
to a conventional model 9
. Masking restricts treatment to those voxels best described by the new model. Visualization maps the dopamine function at each voxel to a color scale and produces a dopamine movie. Interim results and sample dopamine movies of cigarette smoking are presented.
Behavior, Issue 78, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Receptors, Dopamine, Dopamine, Functional Neuroimaging, Binding, Competitive, mathematical modeling (systems analysis), Neurotransmission, transient, dopamine release, PET, modeling, linear, time-invariant, smoking, F-test, ventral-striatum, clinical techniques
Getting to Compliance in Forced Exercise in Rodents: A Critical Standard to Evaluate Exercise Impact in Aging-related Disorders and Disease
Institutions: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
There is a major increase in the awareness of the positive impact of exercise on improving several disease states with neurobiological basis; these include improving cognitive function and physical performance. As a result, there is an increase in the number of animal studies employing exercise. It is argued that one intrinsic value of forced exercise is that the investigator has control over the factors that can influence the impact of exercise on behavioral outcomes, notably exercise frequency, duration, and intensity of the exercise regimen. However, compliance in forced exercise regimens may be an issue, particularly if potential confounds of employing foot-shock are to be avoided. It is also important to consider that since most cognitive and locomotor impairments strike in the aged individual, determining impact of exercise on these impairments should consider using aged rodents with a highest possible level of compliance to ensure minimal need for test subjects. Here, the pertinent steps and considerations necessary to achieve nearly 100% compliance to treadmill exercise in an aged rodent model will be presented and discussed. Notwithstanding the particular exercise regimen being employed by the investigator, our protocol should be of use to investigators that are particularly interested in the potential impact of forced exercise on aging-related impairments, including aging-related Parkinsonism and Parkinson’s disease.
Behavior, Issue 90, Exercise, locomotor, Parkinson’s disease, aging, treadmill, bradykinesia, Parkinsonism
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
Stereotaxic Microinjection of Viral Vectors Expressing Cre Recombinase to Study the Role of Target Genes in Cocaine Conditioned Place Preference
Institutions: Weill Cornell Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Weill Cornell Medical College .
Microinjecting recombinant adenoassociated viral (rAAV) vectors expressing Cre recombinase into distinct mouse brain regions to selectively knockout genes of interest allows for enhanced temporally- and regionally-specific control of gene deletion, compared to existing methods. While conditional deletion can also be achieved by mating mice that express Cre recombinase under the control of specific gene promoters with mice carrying a floxed gene, stereotaxic microinjection allows for targeting of discrete brain areas at experimenter-determined time points of interest. In the context of cocaine conditioned place preference, and other cocaine behavioral paradigms such as self-administration or psychomotor sensitization that can involve withdrawal, extinction and/or reinstatement phases, this technique is particularly useful in exploring the unique contribution of target genes to these distinct phases of behavioral models of cocaine-induced plasticity. Specifically, this technique allows for selective ablation of target genes during discrete phases of a behavior to test their contribution to the behavior across time. Ultimately, this understanding allows for more targeted therapeutics that are best able to address the most potent risk factors that present themselves during each phase of addictive behavior.
Behavior, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Molecular Biology, Pharmacology, Animals, Genetically Modified, Behavior, Animal, Drug-Seeking Behavior, Psychophysiology, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, viral vectors, stereotaxic surgery, microinjection, conditioned place preference, mouse, behavior, neuroscience, extinction, cocaine-induced reinstatement, animal model
Inchworming: A Novel Motor Stereotypy in the BTBR T+ Itpr3tf/J Mouse Model of Autism
Institutions: University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine, Trinity College.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a behaviorally defined neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by decreased reciprocal social interaction, abnormal communication, and repetitive behaviors with restricted interest. As diagnosis is based on clinical criteria, any potentially relevant rodent models of this heterogeneous disorder should ideally recapitulate these diverse behavioral traits. The BTBR T+ Itpr3tf
/J (BTBR) mouse is an established animal model of ASD, displaying repetitive behaviors such as increased grooming, as well as cognitive inflexibility. With respect to social interaction and interest, the juvenile play test has been employed in multiple rodent models of ASD. Here, we show that when BTBR mice are tested in a juvenile social interaction enclosure containing sawdust bedding, they display a repetitive synchronous digging motion. This repetitive motor behavior, referred to as "inchworming," was named because of the stereotypic nature of the movements exhibited by the mice while moving horizontally across the floor. Inchworming mice must use their fore- and hind-limbs in synchrony to displace the bedding, performing a minimum of one inward and one outward motion. Although both BTBR and C56BL/6J (B6) mice exhibit this behavior, BTBR mice demonstrate a significantly higher duration and frequency of inchworming and a decreased latency to initiate inchworming when placed in a bedded enclosure. We conclude that this newly described behavior provides a measure of a repetitive motor stereotypy that can be easily measured in animal models of ASD.
Behavior, Issue 89, mice, inbred C57BL, social behavior, animal models, autism, BTBR, motor stereotypy, repetitive
Combining Behavioral Endocrinology and Experimental Economics: Testosterone and Social Decision Making
Institutions: University of Zurich, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Behavioral endocrinological research in humans as well as in animals suggests that testosterone plays a key role in social interactions. Studies in rodents have shown a direct link between testosterone and aggressive behavior1
and folk wisdom adapts these findings to humans, suggesting that testosterone induces antisocial, egoistic or even aggressive behavior2
. However, many researchers doubt a direct testosterone-aggression link in humans, arguing instead that testosterone is primarily involved in status-related behavior3,4
. As a high status can also be achieved by aggressive and antisocial means it can be difficult to distinguish between anti-social and status seeking behavior.
We therefore set up an experimental environment, in which status can only be achieved by prosocial means. In a double-blind and placebo-controlled experiment, we administered a single sublingual dose of 0.5 mg of testosterone (with a hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin carrier) to 121 women and investigated their social interaction behavior in an economic bargaining paradigm. Real monetary incentives are at stake in this paradigm; every player A receives a certain amount of money and has to make an offer to another player B on how to share the money. If B accepts, she gets what was offered and player A keeps the rest. If B refuses the offer, nobody gets anything. A status seeking player A is expected to avoid being rejected by behaving in a prosocial way, i.e. by making higher offers.
The results show that if expectations about the hormone are controlled for, testosterone administration leads to a significant increase in fair bargaining offers compared to placebo. The role of expectations is reflected in the fact that subjects who report that they believe to have received testosterone make lower offers than those who say they believe that they were treated with a placebo. These findings suggest that the experimental economics approach is sensitive for detecting neurobiological effects as subtle as those achieved by administration of hormones. Moreover, the findings point towards the importance of both psychosocial as well as neuroendocrine factors in determining the influence of testosterone on human social behavior.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, behavioral endocrinology, testosterone, social status, decision making