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The touchscreen operant platform for assessing executive function in rats and mice

Abstract

This protocol details a subset of assays developed within the touchscreen platform to measure various aspects of executive function in rodents. Three main procedures are included: extinction, measuring the rate and extent of curtailing a response that was previously, but is no longer, associated with reward; reversal learning, measuring the rate and extent of switching a response toward a visual stimulus that was previously not, but has become, associated with reward (and away from a visual stimulus that was previously, but is no longer, rewarded); and the 5-choice serial reaction time (5-CSRT) task, gauging the ability to selectively detect and appropriately respond to briefly presented, spatially unpredictable visual stimuli. These protocols were designed to assess both complementary and overlapping constructs including selective and divided visual attention, inhibitory control, flexibility, impulsivity and compulsivity. The procedures comprise part of a wider touchscreen test battery assessing cognition in rodents with high potential for translation to human studies.

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Figure 1: Flowchart overview of pretraining stages 2–5.
Figure 2: Extinction task.
Figure 3: Reversal learning task.
Figure 4: 5-CSRT task.
Figure 5: Annotated photographs of a Campden Instruments rat touchscreen chamber.

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Acknowledgements

The protocols described here are those currently used in our laboratory and were written by current members of the group. However, many researchers have contributed to the development of touchscreen tasks and we would like to gratefully acknowledge their contribution. They include S. Bartko, J. Brigman, S. Forwood, C. Graybeal, A. Izquierdo, L. Lyon, A. Marti, K. McAllister, S. McTighe, J. Nithianantharajah, C. Romberg, J. Talpos and B. Winters. We also thank M. Hvoslef-Eide for her assistance in creating and modifying the mask schematics and flow charts. The research leading to these results has received support from the Innovative Medicine Initiative Joint Undertaking under grant agreement no. 115008, of which resources are composed of an European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations in-kind contribution and financial contribution from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013); from the Wellcome Trust/Medical Research Council (089703/Z/09/Z) and from Alzheimer's Research UK (ART/PG2006/5). A.E.H. receives funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme under grant agreement nos. 241995 (Project 'GENCODYS') and 242167 (Project 'SYNSYS'). J.A. was supported by the Swedish Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences. A.E.H. was supported by the NIAAA Intramural Research Program.

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All authors contributed to the writing of this manuscript. A.C.M. coordinated this effort.

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Correspondence to Adam C Mar.

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L.M.S. and T.J.B. consult for Campden Instruments, Ltd. A.E.H. is an employee of Synome, Ltd.

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Mar, A., Horner, A., Nilsson, S. et al. The touchscreen operant platform for assessing executive function in rats and mice. Nat Protoc 8, 1985–2005 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nprot.2013.123

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