Ethanol is well known to adversely affect frontal executive functioning, which continues to develop throughout adolescence and into young adulthood. This is also a developmental window in which ethanol is misused by a significant number of adolescents. We examined the effects of acute and chronic ethanol exposure during adolescence on behavioral inhibition and efficiency using a modified water maze task. During acquisition, rats were trained to find a stable visible platform onto which they could escape. During the test phase, the stable platform was converted to a visible floating platform (providing no escape) and a new hidden platform was added in the opposite quadrant. The hidden platform was the only means of escape during the test phase. In experiment 1, adolescent animals received ethanol (1.0g/kg) 30min before each session during the test phase. In experiment 2, adolescent animals received chronic intermittent ethanol (5.0g/kg) for 16 days (PND30 To PND46) prior to any training in the maze. At PND72, training was initiated in the same modified water maze task. Results from experiment 1 indicated that acute ethanol promoted behavioral disinhibition and inefficiency. Experiment 2 showed that chronic intermittent ethanol during adolescence appeared to have no lasting effect on behavioral disinhibition or new spatial learning during adulthood. However, chronic ethanol did promote behavioral inefficiency. In summary, results indicate that ethanol-induced promotion of perseverative behavior may contribute to the many adverse behavioral sequelae of alcohol intoxication in adolescents and young adults. Moreover, the long-term effect of adolescent chronic ethanol exposure on behavioral efficiency is similar to that observed after chronic exposure in humans.
This study addresses a fundamental question in fish welfare: are the anaesthetics used for fish aversive? Despite years of routine general use of many agents, within both scientific research and aquaculture, there is a paucity of information regarding their tolerance and associated behavioural responses by fish. This study examined nine of the most commonly used fish anaesthetic agents, and performed preference tests using adult mixed sex zebrafish (Danio rerio), the most commonly held laboratory fish. Video tracking software quantified swimming behaviour related to aversion for each anaesthetic at 50% of its standard recommended dose compared with clean water in a flow-through chemotaxic choice chamber. Results suggest that several commonly used anaesthetics were aversive, including two of the most commonly recommended and used: MS222 (ethyl 3-aminobenzoate methanesulphate) and benzocaine. For ethical best practice, it is recommended that compounds that are aversive, even at low concentration, should no longer be used routinely for anaesthesia or indeed the first step of humane euthanasia of adult zebrafish. Two agents were found not to induce aversive behavioural responses: etomidate and 2,2,2 tribromoethanol. For the millions of adult zebrafish used in laboratories and breeding worldwide, etomidate appears best suited for future routine humane use.
Disruption of neuronal migration in humans is associated with a wide range of behavioral and cognitive outcomes including severe intellectual disability, language impairment, and social dysfunction. Furthermore, malformations of cortical development have been observed in a number of neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. autism and dyslexia), where boys are much more commonly diagnosed than girls (estimates around 4 to 1). The use of rodent models provides an excellent means to examine how sex may modulate behavioral outcomes in the presence of comparable abnormal neuroanatomical presentations. Initially characterized by Rosen et al. 2012, the BXD29- Tlr4lps−2J/J mouse mutant exhibits a highly penetrant neuroanatomical phenotype that consists of bilateral midline subcortical nodular heterotopia with partial callosal agenesis. In the current study, we confirm our initial findings of a severe impairment in rapid auditory processing in affected male mice. We also report that BXD29- Tlr4lps−2J/J (mutant) female mice show no sparing of rapid auditory processing, and in fact show deficits similar to mutant males. Interestingly, female BXD29- Tlr4lps−2J/J mice do display superiority in Morris water maze performance as compared to wild type females, an affect not seen in mutant males. Finally, we report new evidence that BXD29- Tlr4lps−2J/J mice, in general, show evidence of hyper-social behaviors. In closing, the use of the BXD29- Tlr4lps−2J/J strain of mice – with its strong behavioral and neuroanatomical phenotype – may be highly useful in characterizing sex independent versus dependent mechanisms that interact with neural reorganization, as well as clinically relevant abnormal behavior resulting from aberrant neuronal migration.
The aim of this study was to investigate whether conditional inactivation of the glucocorticoid receptors (GRs) in noradrenergic neurons affects animal behavior in mice. Selective ablation of GRs in the noradrenergic system was achieved using the Cre/loxP approach. We crossed transgenic mice expressing the Cre recombinase under the dopamine beta-hydroxylase (DBH) promoter with animals harboring the floxed GR gene. The resulting GRDBHCre mutant mice exhibited no alterations in terms of normal cage behavior, weight gain, spatial memory or spontaneous locomotor activity, regardless of gender. To assess depressive- and anxiety-like behaviors we performed the Tail Suspension Test and the Light-Dark Box Test. While male mutant animals did not show any alternations in both tests, female GRDBHCre mutants displayed depressive- and anxiety-like behavior. Additionally, male GRDBHCre mice were exposed to chronic restraint stress but still exhibited immobility times and anxiety statuses similar to those of non-stressed animals while stressed control mice clearly revealed depressive- and anxiety-like phenotype. Thus, in males the effects of the mutation were precipitated only after chronic restraint stress procedure. Our data reveal a possible gender-dependent role of GRs in the noradrenergic system in anxiety- and depressive-like behavior in mice.
To investigate if perinatal Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs) supplementation can improve sevoflurane-induced neurotoxicity and cognitive impairment in neonatal rats.
Female Sprague-Dawley rats (n = 3 each group) were treated with or without an n-3 PUFAs (fish oil) enriched diet from the second day of pregnancy to 14 days after parturition. The offspring rats (P7) were treated with six hours sevoflurane administration (one group without sevoflurane/prenatal n-3 PUFAs supplement as control). The 5-bromodeoxyuridine (Brdu) was injected intraperitoneally during and after sevoflurane anesthesia to assess dentate gyrus (DG) progenitor proliferation. Brain tissues were harvested and subjected to Western blot and immunohistochemistry respectively. Morris water maze spatial reference memory, fear conditioning, and Morris water maze memory consolidation were tested at P35, P63 and P70 (n = 9), respectively.
Six hours 3% sevoflurane administration increased the cleaved caspase-3 in the thalamus, parietal cortex but not hippocampus of neonatal rat brain. Sevoflurane anesthesia also decreased the neuronal precursor proliferation of DG in rat hippocampus. However, perinatal n-3 PUFAs supplement could decrease the cleaved caspase-3 in the cerebral cortex of neonatal rats, and mitigate the decrease in neuronal proliferation in their hippocampus. In neurobehavioral studies, compared with control and n-3 PUFAs supplement groups, we did not find significant spatial cognitive deficit and early long-term memory impairment in sevoflurane anesthetized neonatal rats at their adulthood. However, sevoflurane could impair the immediate fear response and working memory and short-term memory. And n-3 PUFAs could improve neurocognitive function in later life after neonatal sevoflurane exposure.
Our study demonstrated that neonatal exposure to prolonged sevoflurane could impair the immediate fear response, working memory and short-term memory of rats at their adulthood, which may through inducing neuronal apoptosis and decreasing neurogenesis. However, these sevoflurane-induced unfavorable neuronal effects can be mitigated by perinatal n-3 PUFAs supplementation.
In recent years, numerous environmental psychology studies have demonstrated that contact with nature as opposed to urban settings can improve an individual’s mood, can lead to increased levels of vitality, and can offer an opportunity to recover from stress. According to Attention Restoration Theory (ART) the restorative potential of natural environments is situated in the fact that nature can replenish depleted attentional resources. This replenishment takes place, in part, because nature is deemed to be a source of fascination, with fascination being described as having an “attentional”, an “affective” and an “effort” dimension. However, the claim that fascination with nature involves these three dimensions is to a large extent based on intuition or derived from introspection-based measurement methods, such as self-reports. In three studies, we aimed to more objectively assess whether these three dimensions indeed applied to experiences related to natural environments, before any (attentional) depletion has taken place. The instruments that were used were: (a) the affect misattribution procedure (Study 1), (b) the dot probe paradigm (Study 2) and (c) a cognitively effortful task (Study 3). These instrument were respectively aimed at verifying the affective, attentional and effort dimension of fascination. Overall, the results provide objective evidence for the claims made within the ART framework, that natural as opposed to urban settings are affectively positive (cfr., affective dimension) and that people have an attentional bias to natural (rather than urban) environments (cfr., attentional dimension). The results regarding the effort dimension are less straightforward, and suggest that this dimension only becomes important in sufficiently difficult cognitive tasks.
Sex differences in spatial memory function have been reported with mixed results in the literature, with some studies showing male advantages and others showing no differences. When considering estrus cycle in females, results are mixed at to whether high or low circulating estradiol results in an advantage in spatial navigation tasks. Research involving humans and rodents has demonstrated males preferentially employ Euclidean strategies and utilize geometric cues in order to spatially navigate, whereas females employ landmark strategies and cues in order to spatially navigate.
This study used the water-based snowcone maze in order to assess male and female preference for landmark or geometric cues, with specific emphasis placed on the effects of estrus cycle phase for female rat. Performance and preference for the geometric cue was examined in relation to total hippocampal and hippocampal subregions (CA1&2, CA3 and dentate gyrus) volumes and entorhinal cortex thickness in order to determine the relation between strategy and spatial performance and brain area size. The study revealed that males outperformed females overall during training trials, relied on the geometric cue when the platform was moved and showed significant correlations between entorhinal cortex thickness and spatial memory performance. No gross differences in behavioural performance was observed within females when accounting for cyclicity, and only total hippocampal volume was correlated with performance during the learning trials.
This study demonstrates the sex-specific use of cues and brain areas in a spatial learning task.
In a variety of circumstances animals can represent numerical values per se, although it is unclear how salient numbers are relative to non-numerical properties. The question is then: are numbers intrinsically distinguished or are they processed as a last resort only when no other properties differentiate stimuli? The last resort hypothesis is supported by findings pertaining to animal studies characterized by extensive training procedures. Animals may, nevertheless, spontaneously and routinely discriminate numerical attributes in their natural habitat, but data available on spontaneous numerical competence usually emerge from studies not disentangling numerical from quantitative cues. In the study being outlined here, we tested animals' discrimination of a large number of elements utilizing a paradigm that did not require any training procedures. During rearing, newborn chicks were presented with two stimuli, each characterized by a different number of heterogeneous (for colour, size and shape) elements and food was found in proximity of one of the two stimuli. At testing 3 day-old chicks were presented with stimuli depicting novel elements (for colour, size and shape) representing either the numerosity associated or not associated with food. The chicks approached the number associated with food in the 5vs.10 and 10vs.20 comparisons both when quantitative cues were unavailable (stimuli were of random sizes) or being controlled. The findings emerging from the study support the hypothesis that numbers are salient information promptly processed even by very young animals.
Autism spectrum disorders share three core symptoms: impaired sociability, repetitive behaviors and communication deficits. Incidence is rising, and current treatments are inadequate. Seizures are a common comorbidity, and since the 1920’s a high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet has been used to treat epilepsy. Evidence suggests the ketogenic diet and analogous metabolic approaches may benefit diverse neurological disorders. Here we show that a ketogenic diet improves autistic behaviors in the BTBR mouse. Juvenile BTBR mice were fed standard or ketogenic diet for three weeks and tested for sociability, self-directed repetitive behavior, and communication. In separate experiments, spontaneous intrahippocampal EEGs and tests of seizure susceptibility (6 Hz corneal stimulation, flurothyl, SKF83822, pentylenetetrazole) were compared between BTBR and control (C57Bl/6) mice. Ketogenic diet-fed BTBR mice showed increased sociability in a three-chamber test, decreased self-directed repetitive behavior, and improved social communication of a food preference. Although seizures are a common comorbidity with autism, BTBR mice fed a standard diet exhibit neither spontaneous seizures nor abnormal EEG, and have increased seizure susceptibility in just one of four tests. Thus, behavioral improvements are dissociable from any antiseizure effect. Our results suggest that a ketogenic diet improves multiple autistic behaviors in the BTBR mouse model. Therefore, ketogenic diets or analogous metabolic strategies may offer novel opportunities to improve core behavioral symptoms of autism spectrum disorders.
As atmospheric CO2 levels rise, the CO2 concentration in ocean surface waters increases through a process commonly referred to as ocean acidification. Recently, surprising behavioural modifications has been detected in the early life stages of tropical coral reef fish exposed to ocean acidification-relevant CO2 concentrations, but it has been unclear if this effect could occur in temperate waters. Here we show several severe behavioural disturbances, including effects on boldness, exploratory behaviour, lateralisation, and learning in a temperate fish, the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). The behavioural effects were consistent throughout the exposure period and increased in effect size with exposure time. We observed the effects on adult sticklebacks, a species known to be tolerant to other environmental stressors. Our findings suggest that behavioural abnormalities that stem from CO2 exposure are not restricted to sensitive tropical species or early life stages and may therefore affect fish on a global scale. The severity of disturbances and the possibility of a serious behavioural problem for fish across the globe is cause for concern.
In the 1970s, Tavolga conducted a series of experiments in which he found behavioral evidence that the vocalizations of the catfish species Ariopsis felis may play a role in a coarse form of echolocation. Based on his findings, he postulated a similar function for the calls of closely related catfish species. Here, we describe the physical characteristics of the predominant call-type of Ariopsis seemanni. In two behavioral experiments, we further explore whether A. seemanni uses these calls for acoustic obstacle detection by testing the hypothesis that the call-emission rate of individual fish should increase when subjects are confronted with novel objects, as it is known from other vertebrate species that use pulse-type signals to actively probe the environment. Audio-video monitoring of the fish under different obstacle conditions did not reveal a systematic increase in the number of emitted calls in the presence of novel objects or in dependence on the proximity between individual fish and different objects. These negative findings in combination with our current understanding of directional hearing in fishes (which is a prerequisite for acoustic obstacle detection) make it highly unlikely that A. seemanni uses its calls for acoustic obstacle detection. We argue that the calls are more likely to play a role in intra- or interspecific communication (e.g. in school formation or predator deterrence) and present results from a preliminary Y-maze experiment that are indicative for a positive phonotaxis of A. seemanni towards the calls of conspecifics.
Monkeys can learn the symbolic meaning of tokens, and exchange them to get a reward. Monkeys can also learn the symbolic value of a token by observing conspecifics but it is not clear if they can learn passively by observing other actors, e.g., humans. To answer this question, we tested two monkeys in a token exchange paradigm in three experiments. Monkeys learned token values through observation of human models exchanging them. We used, after a phase of object familiarization, different sets of tokens. One token of each set was rewarded with a bit of apple. Other tokens had zero value (neutral tokens). Each token was presented only in one set. During the observation phase, monkeys watched the human model exchange tokens and watched them consume rewards (vicarious rewards). In the test phase, the monkeys were asked to exchange one of the tokens for food reward. Sets of three tokens were used in the first experiment and sets of two tokens were used in the second and third experiments. The valuable token was presented with different probabilities in the observation phase during the first and second experiments in which the monkeys exchanged the valuable token more frequently than any of the neutral tokens. The third experiments examined the effect of unequal probabilities. Our results support the view that monkeys can learn from non-conspecific actors through vicarious reward, even a symbolic task like the token-exchange task.
The effects of stress on emotional memory are distinct and depend on the stages of memory. Memory undergoes consolidation and reconsolidation after acquisition and retrieval, respectively. Stress facilitates the consolidation but disrupts the reconsolidation of emotional memory. Previous research on the effects of stress on memory have focused on long-term memory (LTM) formation (tested 24 h later), but the effects of stress on the persistence of LTM (tested at least 1 week later) are unclear. Recent findings indicated that the persistence of LTM requires late-phase protein synthesis in the dorsal hippocampus. The present study investigated the effect of stress (i.e., cold water stress) during the late phase after the acquisition and retrieval of contextual fear memory in rats. We found that stress and corticosterone administration during the late phase (12 h) after acquisition, referred to as late consolidation, selectively enhanced the persistence of LTM, whereas stress during the late phase (12 h) after retrieval, referred to as late reconsolidation, selectively disrupted the restabilized persistence of LTM. Moreover, the effects of stress on the persistence of LTM were blocked by the corticosterone synthesis inhibitor metyrapone, which was administered before stress, suggesting that the glucocorticoid system is involved in the effects of stress on the persistence of LTM. We conclude that stress within a restricted time window after acquisition or retrieval selectively affects the persistence of LTM and depends on the glucocorticoid system.
We previously demonstrated that degus (Octodon degus), which are a species of small caviomorph rodents, could be trained to use a T-shaped rake as a hand tool to expand accessible spaces. To elucidate the neurobiological underpinnings of this higher brain function, we compared this tool use learning task with a simple spatial (radial maze) memory task and investigated the changes that were induced in the hippocampal neural circuits known to subserve spatial perception and learning. With the exposure to an enriched environment in home cage, adult neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus was augmented by tool use learning, but not radial maze learning, when compared to control conditions. Furthermore, the proportion of new synapses formed in the CA3 region of the hippocampus, the target area for projections of mossy fiber axons emanating from newborn neurons, was specifically increased by tool use learning. Thus, active tool use behavior by rodents, learned through multiple training sessions, requires the hippocampus to generate more novel neurons and synapses than spatial information processing in radial maze learning.
Persistent neurobehavioral deficits and brain changes need validation for brain restoration. Two hours middle cerebral artery occlusion (tMCAO) or sham surgery was performed in male Sprague-Dawley rats. Neurobehavioral and cognitive deficits were measured over 10 weeks included: (1) sensory, motor, beam balance, reflex/abnormal responses, hindlimb placement, forepaw foot fault and cylinder placement tests, and (2) complex active place avoidance learning (APA) and simple passive avoidance retention (PA). Electroretinogram (ERG), hemispheric loss (infarction), hippocampus CA1 neuronal loss and myelin (Luxol Fast Blue) staining in several fiber tracts were also measured. In comparison to Sham surgery, tMCAO surgery produced significant deficits in all behavioral tests except reflex/abnormal responses. Acute, short lived deficits following tMCAO were observed for forelimb foot fault and forelimb cylinder placement. Persistent, sustained deficits for the whole 10 weeks were exhibited for motor (p<0.001), sensory (p<0.001), beam balance performance (p<0.01) and hindlimb placement behavior (p<0.01). tMCAO produced much greater and prolonged cognitive deficits in APA learning (maximum on last trial of 604±83% change, p<0.05) but only a small, comparative effect on PA retention. Hemispheric loss/atrophy was measured 10 weeks after tMCAO and cross-validated by two methods (e.g., almost identical % ischemic hemispheric loss of 33.4±3.5% for H&E and of 34.2±3.5% for TTC staining). No visual dysfunction by ERG and no hippocampus neuronal loss were detected after tMCAO. Fiber tract damage measured by Luxol Fast Blue myelin staining intensity was significant (p<0.01) in the external capsule and striatum but not in corpus callosum and anterior commissure. In summary, persistent neurobehavioral deficits were validated as important endpoints for stroke restorative research in the future. Fiber myelin loss appears to contribute to these long term behavioral dysfunctions and can be important for cognitive behavioral control necessary for complex APA learning.
A quantitative trait locus (QTL) linked with ability to find a platform in the Morris Water Maze (MWM) was located on chromosome 17 (Nav-5 QTL) using intercross between Dahl S and Dahl R rats. We developed two congenic strains, S.R17A and S.R17B introgressing Dahl R-chromosome 17 segments into Dahl S chromosome 17 region spanning putative Nav-5 QTL. Performance analysis of S.R17A, S.R17B and Dahl S rats in the Morris water maze (MWM) task showed a significantly decreased spatial navigation performance in S.R17B congenic rats when compared with Dahl S controls (P = 0.02). The S.R17A congenic segment did not affect MWM performance delimiting Nav-5 to the chromosome 17 65.02–74.66 Mbp region. Additional fine mapping is necessary to identify the specific gene variant accounting for Nav-5 effect on spatial learning and memory in Dahl rats.
The Strange Situation Procedure (SSP) is increasingly being used to study attachment between dogs and humans. It has been developed from the Ainsworth Strange Situation Procedure, which is used extensively to investigate attachment between children and their parents. In this experiment, 12 female beagle dogs were tested in two treatments to identify possible order effects in the test, a potential weakness in the SSP. In one treatment (FS), dogs participated together with a ‘familiar person’ and a ‘stranger’. In a control treatment (SS), the same dogs participated together with two unfamiliar people, ‘stranger A’ and ‘stranger B’. Comparisons were made between episodes within as well as between treatments. As predicted in FS, dogs explored more in the presence of the familiar person than the stranger. Importantly, they also explored more in the presence of stranger A (who appeared in the same order as the familiar person and followed the same procedure) than stranger B in SS. Furthermore, comparisons between treatments, where a familiar person was present in FS and stranger A was present in SS, showed no differences in exploration. In combination, these results indicate that the effect of a familiar person on dogs' exploratory behaviour, a key feature when assessing secure attachment styles, could not be tested reliably due to the order in which the familiar person and the stranger appear. It is proposed that in the future only counterbalanced versions of the SSP are used. Alternatively, since dogs reliably initiated more contact with the familiar person compared to the strangers, it is suggested that future studies on attachment in dogs towards humans should focus either on the behaviour of the dog in those episodes of the SSP when the person returns, or on reunion behaviour in other studies, specially designed to address dog-human interactions at this time.
Nectins are cell adhesion molecules that are widely expressed in the brain. Nectin expression shows a dynamic spatiotemporal regulation, playing a role in neural migratory processes during development. Nectin-1 and nectin-3 and their heterophilic trans-interactions are important for the proper formation of synapses. In the hippocampus, nectin-1 and nectin-3 localize at puncta adherentia junctions and may play a role in synaptic plasticity, a mechanism essential for memory and learning. We evaluated the potential involvement of nectin-1 and nectin-3 in memory consolidation using an emotional learning paradigm. Rats trained for contextual fear conditioning showed transient nectin-1—but not nectin-3—protein upregulation in synapse-enriched hippocampal fractions at about 2 h posttraining. The upregulation of nectin-1 was found exclusively in the ventral hippocampus and was apparent in the synaptoneurosomal fraction. This upregulation was induced by contextual fear conditioning but not by exposure to context or shock alone. When an antibody against nectin-1, R165, was infused in the ventral-hippocampus immediately after training, contextual fear memory was impaired. However, treatment with the antibody in the dorsal hippocampus had no effect in contextual fear memory formation. Similarly, treatment with the antibody in the ventral hippocampus did not interfere with acoustic memory formation. Further control experiments indicated that the effects of ventral hippocampal infusion of the nectin-1 antibody in contextual fear memory cannot be ascribed to memory non-specific effects such as changes in anxiety-like behavior or locomotor behavior. Therefore, we conclude that nectin-1 recruitment to the perisynaptic environment in the ventral hippocampus plays an important role in the formation of contextual fear memories. Our results suggest that these mechanisms could be involved in the connection of emotional and contextual information processed in the amygdala and dorsal hippocampus, respectively, thus opening new venues for the development of treatments to psychopathological alterations linked to impaired contextualization of emotions.
Emotions can bias human decisions- for example depressed or anxious people tend to make pessimistic judgements while those in positive affective states are often more optimistic. Several studies have reported that affect contingent judgement biases can also be produced in animals. The animals, however, cannot self-report; therefore, the valence of their emotions, to date, could only be assumed. Here we present the results of an experiment where the affect-contingent judgement bias has been produced by objectively measured positive emotions. We trained rats in operant Skinner boxes to press one lever in response to one tone to receive a food reward and to press another lever in response to a different tone to avoid punishment by electric foot shock. After attaining a stable level of discrimination performance, the animals were subjected to either handling or playful, experimenter-administered manual stimulation – tickling. This procedure has been confirmed to induce a positive affective state in rats, and the 50-kHz ultrasonic vocalisations (rat laughter) emitted by animals in response to tickling have been postulated to index positive emotions akin to human joy. During the tickling and handling sessions, the numbers of emitted high-frequency 50-kHz calls were scored. Immediately after tickling or handling, the animals were tested for their responses to a tone of intermediate frequency, and the pattern of their responses to this ambiguous cue was taken as an indicator of the animals' optimism. Our findings indicate that tickling induced positive emotions which are directly indexed in rats by laughter, can make animals more optimistic. We demonstrate for the first time a link between the directly measured positive affective state and decision making under uncertainty in an animal model. We also introduce innovative tandem-approach for studying emotional-cognitive interplay in animals, which may be of great value for understanding the emotional-cognitive changes associated with mood disorders.
In behavioural experiments, motivation to learn can be achieved using food rewards as positive reinforcement in food-restricted animals. Previous studies reduce animal weights to 80–90% of free-feeding body weight as the criterion for food restriction. However, effects of different degrees of food restriction on task performance have not been assessed. We compared learning task performance in mice food-restricted to 80 or 90% body weight (BW). We used adult wildtype (WT; C57Bl/6j) and knockout (ephrin-A2−/−) mice, previously shown to have a reverse learning deficit. Mice were trained in a two-choice visual discrimination task with food reward as positive reinforcement. When mice reached criterion for one visual stimulus (80% correct in three consecutive 10 trial sets) they began the reverse learning phase, where the rewarded stimulus was switched to the previously incorrect stimulus. For the initial learning and reverse phase of the task, mice at 90%BW took almost twice as many trials to reach criterion as mice at 80%BW. Furthermore, WT 80 and 90%BW groups significantly differed in percentage correct responses and learning strategy in the reverse learning phase, whereas no differences between weight restriction groups were observed in ephrin-A2−/− mice. Most importantly, genotype-specific differences in reverse learning strategy were only detected in the 80%BW groups. Our results indicate that increased food restriction not only results in better performance and a shorter training period, but may also be necessary for revealing behavioural differences between experimental groups. This has important ethical and animal welfare implications when deciding extent of diet restriction in behavioural studies.
Division of labor, an adaptation in which individuals specialize in performing tasks necessary to the colony, such as nest defense and foraging, is believed key to eusocial insects' remarkable ecological success. Here we report, for the first time, a completely novel specialization in a eusocial insect, namely the ability of Cataglyphis cursor ants to rescue a trapped nestmate using precisely targeted behavior. Labeled “precision rescue”, this behavior involves the ability of rescuers not only to detect what, exactly, holds the victim in place, but also to direct specific actions to this obstacle. Individual ants, sampled from each of C. cursor's three castes, namely foragers, nurses and inactives, were experimentally ensnared (the “victim”) and exposed to a caste-specific group of potential “rescuers.” The data reveal that foragers were able to administer, and obtain, the most help while members of the youngest, inactive caste not only failed to respond to victims, but also received virtually no help from potential rescuers, regardless of caste. Nurses performed intermediate levels of aid, mirroring their intermediate caste status. Our results demonstrate that division of labor, which controls foraging, defense and brood care in C. cursor, also regulates a newly discovered behavior in this species, namely a sophisticated form of rescue, a highly adaptive specialization that is finely tuned to a caste member's probability of becoming, or encountering, a victim in need of rescue.
Math can be difficult, and for those with high levels of mathematics-anxiety (HMAs), math is associated with tension, apprehension, and fear. But what underlies the feelings of dread effected by math anxiety? Are HMAs’ feelings about math merely psychological epiphenomena, or is their anxiety grounded in simulation of a concrete, visceral sensation – such as pain – about which they have every right to feel anxious? We show that, when anticipating an upcoming math-task, the higher one’s math anxiety, the more one increases activity in regions associated with visceral threat detection, and often the experience of pain itself (bilateral dorso-posterior insula). Interestingly, this relation was not seen during math performance, suggesting that it is not that math itself hurts; rather, the anticipation of math is painful. Our data suggest that pain network activation underlies the intuition that simply anticipating a dreaded event can feel painful. These results may also provide a potential neural mechanism to explain why HMAs tend to avoid math and math-related situations, which in turn can bias HMAs away from taking math classes or even entire math-related career paths.
Enhancing laboratory animal welfare, particularly in rodents, has been achieved through environmental enrichment in caging systems. Traditional enrichment such as adding objects has shown to impact development, reproductive and maternal performance as well as cognition. However, effects of increased spatial complexity as part of larger novel caging systems have not been investigated. While adoption of caging systems with increased spatial complexity seems uncontroversial from a welfare perspective, effects of such housing on the development and task performance of experimental animals remains unclear. In this study, we investigate differences in key behaviours and cognitive performance between Lister Hooded rats housed in traditional (single-shelf) cages (‘basic’) and those housed in larger cages with an additional shelf (‘enriched’). We found minor differences in maternal behaviour, such as nursing and offspring development. Further, we compared task performance in females, using a hippocampus-dependent task (T-maze) and a hippocampus-independent task (Novel Object Recognition, NOR). While in the T-maze no differences in either the rate of learning or probe trial performance were found, in the NOR task females housed in enriched cages performed better than those housed in basic cages. Our results show that increased spatial complexity does not significantly affect development and maternal performance but may enhance learning in females for a non-spatial task. Increased spatial complexity does not appear to have the same effects on behaviour and development as traditional enrichment. Thus, our results suggest no effect of housing conditions on the development of most behaviours in experimental animals housed in spatially enriched caging systems.
For social omnivores such as rats and humans, taste is far more than a chemical sense activated by food. By virtue of evolutionary and epigenetic elaboration, taste is associated with negative affect, stress vulnerability, responses to psychoactive substances, pain, and social judgment. A crucial gap in this literature, which spans behavior genetics, affective and social neuroscience, and embodied cognition, concerns links between taste and social behavior in rats. Here we show that rats selectively bred for low saccharin intake are subordinate to high-saccharin-consuming rats when they compete in weight-matched dyads for food, a task used to model depression. Statistical and experimental controls suggest that differential resource utilization within dyads is not an artifact of individual-level processes such as apparatus habituation or ingestive motivation. Tail skin temperature measurements showed that LoS rats display larger hyperthermic responses to social interaction after status is established, evidence linking taste, social stress, autonomic reactivity, and depression-like symptoms. Based on regression using early- and late-competition predictors to predict dyadic disparity in final competition scores, we tentatively suggest that HiS rats emerge as dominant both because of an “early surge” on their part and because LoS acquiesce later. These findings should invigorate the comparative study of individual differences in social status and its relationship to mental and physical health.
Postures have long been used and proved useful to describe animals’ behaviours and emotional states, but remains difficult to assess objectively in field conditions. A recent study performed on horses using geometric morphometrics revealed important postural differences between 2 horse populations differing in management conditions (leisure horses living in social groups used for occasional “relaxed” riding/riding school horses living in individual boxes used in daily riding lessons with more constraining techniques). It was suggested that these postural differences may reflect chronic effects of riding techniques on the horses’ kinematics and muscular development. In the present study, we tried to evaluate the interest of postural measures to assess welfare in horses. This study was separated into 2 parts. First, 18 horses coming from these 2 types of populations (leisure/riding school horses) were submitted to 2 back evaluations by 1) manual examination (experienced practitioner) and 2) sEMG measures along the spine. We then measured neck roundness on 16 of these 18 horses. The results highlighted high correlations between manual and sEMG examinations over the spine. sEMG measures at the different locations were strongly correlated all over the spine. Moreover, neck postures and muscular activities were strongly correlated, horses with concave necks having higher sEMG measures both at precise locations (i.e. cervical sites) but also when comparing neck postures to the whole spine muscular activity highlighting the functioning of horses’ back as a whole. Lastly, strong differences appeared between the populations, leisure horses being evaluated as having sounder spines, exhibiting lower sEMG measures and rounder neck than the riding school horses. sEMG measures and neck “roundness” seemed therefore to be reliable indicators of back disorders, easy to evaluate in field conditions. This highlights the accuracy of using postural elements to evaluate the animals’ general state and has important implications for animals’ welfare evaluations.