New Solution: An automated test of recognition memory in rodents

Researchers at Durham University have developed a semi-automated ‘continual trials’ approach for spontaneous object recognition tasks, in which an animal can complete many trials in a single session. This leads to more reliable behavioural data, more sensitive measures of performance and a reduction in the number of animals required to give the same statistical power.

Spontaneous tasks of recognition memory are often run such that only one trial a day is collected for each animal. These tasks are often carried out using a single arena with the animal being isolated from their homecage group and handled during delays (whilst objects are being changed) and between trials (which are typically run on different days), increasing anxiety in the animals and affecting reproducibility of the data. By adapting the apparatus, to include a testing chamber in which the animal can explore objects and a holding chamber where the animal rests undisturbed whilst objects are changed, it is possible to run multiple trials. An automatic door opens between the two chambers to allow the animal to shuttle between them without being handled. The apparatus also incorporates a camera to capture the animal’s behaviour throughout its time in the testing chamber for scoring later and a prototype behaviour scoring app. Further development of the app associated with the video apparatus would enable the testing sessions to be scored faster than standard methodologies and automated scoring would reduce the subjectivity of manual scoring.

Partnership is sought with users who can help further develop and validate the apparatus in numerous ways, including:

  • Assessing the feasibility of a single experimenter running multiple apparatuses simultaneously, to enable increased throughput in these tasks.
  • Maximising the data that can be extracted (manually or otherwise) from the recorded behaviour, for quick and accurate behaviour scoring.
  • Further validating the manual version of this apparatus.
  • Trialling the behavioural scoring app in an operational environment, to provide advice and feedback that support refinement of the system.

In both rats and mice, the researchers have shown that they can reduce the number of animals required for standard tasks from 16 animals per group to eight. This has reduced the number of animals used in their research group by approximately 100 animals in the last three years. The apparatus also provides a marked refinement in procedure, as animals do not undergo handling between or within trials. This leads to more reliable behavioural measures and a significant reduction in behavioural ‘noise’ in the data. Reducing the 'noise' in the data from these experiments provides additional sensitivity, improving reliability and reproducibility, and adding to the overall reduction in animal usage.

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