Built out of a desire to help standardize behavioral neuroscience research
One of our brands O’Hara, a manufacturing company based out of Japan, has been developing and manufacturing equipment for behavioral experiments for over 40 years. O’Hara got its start by designing and manufacturing equipment for pharmaceutical companies that were doing efficacy testing on various therapeutic drugs. They quickly realized that there was no method of standardization across behavioral studies from different labs, research institutes, and pharmaceutical companies, which they felt would have detrimental consequences on data integrity. With this issue at the forefront of their minds, O’Hara began developing automated behavior tests to improve the reliability of behavioral data. This newfound focus was born out of a desire to help improve the reproducibility crisis that has been plaguing Neuroscience research for several years now – That is the inability to replicate scientific studies across experiments and research institutions.
What is the reproducibility crisis?
Reproducibility or replicability from a research standpoint is the idea that a given set of experimental findings should be able to be replicated following the same procedures. The inability to replicate basic scientific findings across research institutions and even across experiments is a major issue plaguing Neuroscience research today and is particularly prevalent in animal studies. This is not hard to believe given that the use of animals themselves provides inherent variability, even when all other factors are controlled for. To read more about this issue and what we are doing to try and alleviate the problem click here.
Ohara offers a variety of automated systems to help you standardize the data collection process
Don’t see what you are looking for?
O’Hara is committed to making customizable solutions to fit the researcher’s specific needs, and therefore our products can be tailored to better fit your needs. In fact, two of our products, the Free Maze and the Self head-Restraining Platform were created out of collaborations between research labs and O’Hara.
Learn more about the background behind the making of the Free Maze here.
Learn more about the motivation behind the Self Head-Restraining Platform here.
For more detailed information about our automated behavioral solutions connect with us today.
What is unique about our chambers is that they contain infrared sensors located at the top of the touchscreen itself that improve the accuracy of touch responses from small rodents.
Unlike the touch screen technology that most of our smartphones and computer screens use, called projective capacitance, the infrared sensors inside the touch screen improve accuracy by eliminating the need for a minimum force required to generate a response. This means that even nose poke’s from mice will register a response.
In addition to improved sensitivity, our touch panel was designed in a trapezoidal shape instead of a square, making it easier for the animal to focus on the screen ahead.
Our touch panel chambers are compatible with in vivo electrophysiology and optogenetics techniques, as well as with miniature head-mounted microscopes.
Chambers can be purchased singly or in a package of four for a more cost-effective option. In addition, the chambers come with our Operant TaskStudio software package, an extremely user-friendly software platform that enables customers to design and execute their own tasks or choose from a variety of pre-programmed tasks.
Check out more about our software in our next video. To learn more about our Touch Panel operant system please check out our product website or connect with an expert.
The Drinko Measurer is one of our most simple products, but an extremely useful one for gathering precise measurements of liquid consumption in animal studies.
What makes the Drinko Measurer unique is that it contains double ball bearings inside the nozzle of the sipper, preventing leakage of excess liquid. Furthermore, when force from a mouse or rat is applied to the tip of the sipper tube, a single drop of solution is applied.
Each tube also contains a clip that attaches to the sipper tube to the cage to stabilize the bottle to the cage. This prevents it from being knocked out of place by the mouse or rat. This clip can also be adjusted so you can adjust the length of the nozzle within the cage.
Additionally, all parts are autoclavable for easy cleaning.
The Drinko Measurer comes with several different sipper tube lengths 2.5, 3.5 and 4.5 inch as well as two different bottle sizes, 10 and 15ml. We also have new 15ml bottles with ml markings making it easier to visualize liquid consumption. However, we recommend weighing the bottles for the best results.
Now I’m going to tell you about several applications we recommend for the Drinko Measurer. The first is for drug delivery experiments. For drugs that can be administered orally and easily mixed into a solvent, simply use the Drinko Measurer as a means for drug delivery rather than having to inject your experimental animals. This is useful for drug dosing experiments and toxicology studies. Also, by combining two units per cage, you can measure drug-seeking preference with drugs of abuse.
The second application is for conditioned taste preference. Or conditioned taste aversion Easily Measure preference or avoidance of a liquid by combining two Drinko Measurer systems and measuring liquid consumption.
Finally, we do carry 40 mL bottles which are useful for larger animals or for extended access studies.
You can purchase units easily by navigating to our shop.
Experimental outcomes can be influenced by a variety of factors, some of which can be controlled for. Minimizing confounding factors is crucial to gathering reliable and repeatable results.
One of the biggest issues in animal research today is the replicability of results. Too often animal study outcomes can not be repeated. This is not hard to believe given that the use of animals themselves provides inherent variability, even when all other factors are controlled for. Differences in the strain of animals used, as well as the age of the animals, time of day that experimental tests are administered, and how long the animals were handled prior to experimental testing are just some of the factors that can impact experimental outcomes.
While it is impossible to eliminate all external factors, animal-experimenter interactions can have a huge impact on results and should, therefore, try to be minimized as much as possible.
How can you mitigate animal-experimenter interactions?
At AMUZA, we offer a variety of automated behavioral tests that were designed specifically to improve the reliability and repeatability of behavioral assays.
For example, our Touch Panel operant training system is an automated operant chamber that utilizes photo beam sensors in the touch panel itself to improve the accuracy of responses from small rodents. The Touch Panel also includes software that enables users to design and run their own tasks with video tracking capabilities for automated data collection.
Even our standard mazes come with video tracking and automated data collection and analysis.
Self Head-Restraining Platform
Furthermore, one of our other products, the Self Head-Restraining Platform, was designed to completely automate the head-fixation process in mice in order to streamline head-fixed behavioral assays.
In fact, the platform, originally developed by Dr. Andrea Benucci at RIKEN brain institute, was designed specifically to help overcome the reproducibility crisis.
Not only do our tools free up experimenter time and labor to focus on the actual science, they help remove unwanted experimenter bias by standardizing the experimental testing arena.
Even with automated behavioral tasks, however, it is still possible to introduce experimenter bias. This is why we also recommend that you perform rodent behavioral tests at roughly the same time each day, as well as handle experimental animals equally. Ideally, the same experimenter should be handling the animals each day. If this is not realistic, different experimenters should be counterbalanced across days, or across testing groups.
Also, if you plan to use different strains of mice or rats for your experiments, make sure to run behavioral tests across these different strains to account for any strain-specific differences.
Additionally, with our automated rodent behavior systems, we recommend that the motivation of the experimental animals to perform the task is consistent. If animals are food or water-deprived, weights should be taken daily initially and then weekly thereafter to ensure that test subjects are maintained at similar percentages of their free-feeding body weight.
Cleaning the testing chambers between use
All of our behavioral tests are made out of acrylic that is easy to clean as well as removable floors. Testing arenas should always be cleaned between experimental sessions to make sure the scent of the previous animal will not influence behavioral results.
For more detailed information about our automated behavioral tests connect with us today.
New to Behavioral Research? Understanding how to choose the right behavioral test for your experiment is crucial.
There are several main categories of behavioral tests used to assess a variety of different brain functions and how they relate to behavior. In this post, we will describe these categories, the types of tests and what they measure.
Learning and Memory
There are a variety of mazes and operant tests that can be used to examine learning and memory in rodents. Below are some common examples, as well as what they are traditionally used to test.
Novel Object Recognition
This test is quite simple and can be performed inside the animal’s home cage. It is based on the tendency of rodents to spend more time exploring a novel object than a familiar one and requires the use of recognition memory.
Morris Water Maze
The Morris Water Maze is a water navigation task used to assess spatial learning and memory. In this task, animals must learn to find and remember where a hidden platform is that enables them to escape the water. Since rodents are averse to water, they are motivated to quickly find the hidden platform, which they cannot see because the water in the maze is opaque. Measuring response latency to the platform once the animal has learned where it is can be used to assess spatial working memory. This test can also be used to identify depression-like symptoms if the animal fails to show motivation to swim.
The Barnes Maze is also used to measure spatial learning and memory. The basic idea is to measure the ability of the experimental test subject to learn and remember the location of a target zone using distal cues located around the experimental testing arena.
The setup of the Barnes Maze consists of a circular surface with up to 20 around the outside of the circumference. Visual cues like-colored shapes or patterns are placed around the table for the animal to see. Under one of the holes is an “escape box” which the animal must learn to find using the cues. Rodents don’t like open spaces so they typically are very motivated to find the escape box. Measuring the latency it takes for the animal to find the escape box is an indicator of spatial working memory.
The T-Maze spontaneous alternation test can be used to measure exploratory behavior. Rodents typically prefer to visit a new arm of the maze rather than a familiar one. The T-Maze can also be used to measure spatial working memory, by placing a reward at the end of one arm of the maze and then alternating the reward. The animal must learn that the arm that was previously not rewarded now is.
The Y-Maze is very similar to the T-Maze with the exception that each of the arms is evenly spaced. The Y-Maze is thought to be slightly easier for rodents to learn compared to the T-Maze. Interested in behavioral testing using several different maze types? Our Free Maze system at AMUZA gives you the opportunity to switch between up to eight different maze configurations. Learn more.
Fear Conditioning (FC) is a type of associative learning task in which experimental test subjects learn that a previously neutral stimulus is associated with an aversive stimulus (foot shock). This learning is evidenced by anticipated freezing in response to the previously neutral cue even in the absence of the foot shock. With fear conditioning, animals learn to fear both the stimulus and the context that the stimulus is presented in. This test can be used to measure hippocampal-dependent contextual memory as well as fear processing in the amygdala.
Conditioned Place Preference
This is an operant test used to measure the motivational states that are connected to objects or experiences. You can measure both preference and avoidance by recording the amount of time the animal spends in the arena with the associated stimulus. This test is most commonly used to measure the rewarding and aversive effects of drugs. For these experiments, drugs are introduced in specific contexts, and then the animal is tested on how much time they spend in that particular context in the absence of the drug.
The open-field test can be used to measure exploratory behavior and general locomotor activity in rodents and is a great test for measuring the toxicity of drugs in preclinical settings.
In the accelerating rotarod test, the experimental test subject is placed on a rotating cylinder that is suspended in the air above the cage floor. Rodents will try to stay on the cylinder to avoid falling. The experimenter can measure the length of time that the animal stays on the rotarod. This is a great test to measure balance, coordination and motor planning and is effective for animal models of Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.
Grip Strength Test
Also known as the forelimb grip strength test, in this test animals pull on a horizontal lever while the subjects are held by the tail and lowered towards the apparatus. Peak tension or the force applied to the bar just before the animal loses grip is applied. This test is useful for measuring and assessing deficits in motor function.
Startle Response and Pre-pulse Inhibition Test
Pre-pulse inhibition, also known as a reduction in startle response or PPI, is a phenomenon in which a weak stimulus (Pre-pulse) can suppress the startle response to a subsequent stronger startle stimulus (pulse). Impairments in PPI are thought to underlie impairments in sensorimotor gating, which is a common impairment seen in schizophrenia. Typically the way it works is that an animal is placed into a cylindrical chamber and a startling acoustic stimulus is played. The latency of the animal’s startle response to both the pre-pulse and the pulse can then be quantified.
Five-Choice Serial Reaction Time Task
The five-choice serial reaction time task, also known as the (5CSRTT) is commonly used to test attention and impulsivity in rodents. This task is typically carried out in an operant chamber, like our Touch Panel operant chamber, equipped with at least 5 holes. In this task, animals must correctly identify which of five holes has been illuminated via a nose poke. The time that the hole is illuminated can be shortened so that the animal must pay close attention in order to make the correct choice. Between trials, the experimental test subject must also inhibit responses to other holes until the next hole is illuminated. This task is quite useful for animal models of neuropsychiatric models like schizophrenia and autism.
Learn about all of the behavioral test options offered by AMUZA
In both industry and academia, there is a diverse array of behavioral tests used to examine disease states, drug efficacy and toxicity, cognitive behaviors, sensory-motor function, social interactions, substance dependence and more in animal models. Behavioral research in rodents falls under the umbrella category of Behavioral Neuroscience.
What exactly is Behavioral Neuroscience?
Behavioral neuroscience is the study of the underlying neural or brain mechanisms that guide behavior (Kandel et al., Principles of Neural Science, 1981). Behavioral testing in laboratory animals is vital for understanding how the brain supports sensorimotor function, cognition, emotion, etc. In addition, it is essential for understanding how brain function is altered in various disease states including neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders.
There are many factors to consider when conducting behavioral testing in laboratory animals, namely rodents. These include but are not limited to the following: type of laboratory animal used (namely mice or rats), sex differences and strain differences, age of the animals, housing conditions, animal-experimenter interactions, etc.
If you are new to behavioral research or Behavioral Neuroscience it might be overwhelming to know where or how to begin. This is why we have created a series of posts on behavioral testing in laboratory animals in order to help you get started. We will cover (1) differences to consider when choosing mice and rats for behavioral testing, (2) how to choose the right behavioral test for your research, and (3) factors that influence behavioral outcomes as well as how to deal with them.
Part 1: Mice or rats? Which are better for behavioral tests?
A drawing showing the relative size of rats and mice.
Rodents, in particular rats and mice, have been the preferred animals for biomedical research for several reasons. Namely, they are readily available, easy to handle, can be genetically modified to model a variety of disease states, and are genetically quite similar to humans.
The quick answer to which is better is – well – it depends. There are several factors to consider when choosing between mice and rats for experimental behavioral testing, which I will explain below.
While there are many similarities between mice and rats, there are several significant behavioral and physiological differences to consider when making your decision.
Size. The average mouse weighs about 20 g while the average rat weighs about 10x that. If you plan to do several surgeries for your experiment, rats are often preferred because their larger size makes surgery easier. However, for experiments involving imaging, mice tend to be preferred. This is because their skulls are thinner, making optical access to the brain easier, and their small size makes them easier to position under the microscope.
Handling. Rats tend to be easier to handle and are less stressed when handled by humans. This makes them ideal for behavioral tests that require a lot of handling from the experimenter. However, since mice are smaller they tend to be easier to restrain, making them a more suitable choice for head-fixed behavioral tasks.
Genetic modifications. Genetically modified mice are ubiquitous in behavioral research. Because their genome is relatively easy to manipulate, genetically modified mouse strains are much more common than rats. Genetic modifications in mice are commonly used to model various disease states, as well as to target or study very specific cell populations.
Social behavior. Rats and mice are quite different in terms of social behavior! Rats tend to enjoy being with other rats and are less territorial and less aggressive in social situations compared to mice. Rats also show more maternal behavior compared to mice.
Cognitive behavior. Rats are superior at maze-learning, as well as learning various operant tasks, this makes them easier to train because it requires less time. It also makes them a better translational model for studying neuropsychiatric conditions like Autism and schizophrenia and impulsivity, as well as for studying hippocampal function as it relates to maze learning.
Now that you know how to choose between mice or rats, next week we will show you how to choose the right behavioral tests for your research.
If you are new to behavioral neuroscience, choosing the right behavioral test for your experiment can be a challenging task. Luckily our touch panel operant conditioning chambers are extremely flexible and allow users to run a variety of operant tests in laboratory animals. Today I’m going to talk about 4 common tasks used with our operant conditioning chambers and what they measure so you can hit the ground running with your experiments.
The first is the Visual Discrimination task:
This task involves learning that one of the two shapes displayed on the screen is correct. Touching the correct stimulus is rewarded with a liquid or food reward and touching the incorrect stimulus is punished with a timeout where the mouse or rat cannot start another trial. Once the mouse or rat learns the correct stimulus, the stimuli are reversed so that the previously rewarded stimuli now results in punishment. This type of reversal learning requires the mouse or rat to inhibit automatic responses that require the prefrontal cortex. This task is a great measure of cognitive flexibility and is a great tool for examining animal models of many neuropsychiatric disorders like schizophrenia or autism.
The second is the paired associative learning task: Paired Associate Learning (PAL) displayed on screen.
In this task, mice or rats learn and remember which of three objects goes in which of three spatial locations. On each trial, two different objects are presented; one is in the correct location; the other in the incorrect location. The rat or mouse must choose which stimulus is in the correct location. This task relies on the hippocampus and can be used to test hippocampal dysfunction commonly seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
The third task is the visuomotor conditional learning task: Visuomotor Conditional Learning (VMCL) on screen.
This task is a stimulus-response task. The rat or mouse must learn that two stimuli go with two different locations. When the first stimulus, stimulus A, is presented the rat or mouse must always respond to location A. When the second stimulus, stimulus B, is presented, the rat or mouse must always respond to location B. This type of test is useful for examining motor dysfunction in rat and mouse models of Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
The fourth and final task is the 5-choice serial reaction time task: 5-Choice Serial Reaction Time (5CSRT) displayed on screen.
This task requires the mouse or rat to respond to a brief visual stimulus presented randomly in one of 5 locations. The stimulus is flashed and then disappears after a set interval requiring that the mouse or rat retain the location of the stimulus in memory. The stimulus is brief, requiring the mouse or rat to pay attention to the screen at all times. This task is used to measure attention span and impulsivity control in mice and rats and is useful for animal models of ADHD and schizophrenia.
Social interaction tests in mice and rats are extremely useful for research involving animal models of psychiatric disorders including Schizophrenia and neurodevelopmental disorders like Autism.
A defining hallmark of many psychiatric disorders is abnormal social interaction or withdrawal from social contact. There are several different types of tests used to measure social interaction in rodents, but the most common is called the Three-chambered Social Interaction Test, originally developed by Dr. Jacqueline Crawley. This test measures time spent by the experimental animal in social investigation of other animals within the experimental arena.
Testing occurs in three phases inside of a three-chambered box.
First, the experimental animal is habituated to the 3-chambered arena. Next, the rodent is placed in the middle chamber and encounters a never-before-met intruder in either the left or right chamber. This phase can be used to examine the experimental animal’s general sociability.
Rodents generally prefer to spend more time in groups and will investigate a novel intruder more than a familiar one. In the final phase, the experimental subject animal encounters the now-familiar animal and a new never-before-met intruder in the previously vacant chamber. This phase can be used to examine the experimental animal’s interest in social novelty since rodents will generally prefer the novel social interaction. To measure sociability and preference for social novelty you can quantify both the total time spent in each chamber as well as total entries into either chamber.
Crawley, J. N. (2007). Whats wrong with my mouse?: behavioral phenotyping of transgenic and knockout mice. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Interscience.
Interested in learning more about the Three-Chambered Social Interaction Test?
Check out our brochure or connect with an expert today!
In this video, we will walk you through how exactly mice learn to self head-restrain using the self head-restraining platform. The concept is quite simple and relies on operant or classical conditioning principles. Mice learn head-restriction by walking through the narrow corridor of the chamber past a set of rails that latch the head plate in place allowing the mouse to receive a water reward.
The rails are locked into place once the photo beam sensors, located on the corridor, are triggered when the mouse has reached the correct position. The rails can be set to lock for a specified amount of time, while the mouse performs a behavioral task.
In this case, the timer has been set to 10 min. After 10 min the rails will automatically release, allowing the mouse to return to its home cage.
The most critical step in learning self-latching is the habituation phase. During the habituation process, which typically takes between 1-2 weeks, a habituation tube with a similar non-locking rail system is placed in the home cage and attached to a water reward. At this time, mice should be placed on water restriction so that they are motivated to seek water. Mice gradually approach and enter the tube, following the rail system until they are able to obtain water.
The key difference between habituation and the actual task is that during habituation the rails do not automatically lock so the mouse can exit at any point. This allows mice to get comfortable with having their head plates in the rail system but also gives them the opportunity to voluntarily escape.
After habituation, once mice are comfortable entering the corridor and sliding their head plate into the rails they easily learn to self-latch using the self head-restraining platform and can then be trained to perform operant behaviors while head-restrained.
In this post, we describe four common tasks you can use with your operant training chambers, and what exactly they measure. All of these tasks are easy to program with our Touch Panel operant chambers and TaskStudio software.
Learn more about our chambers and their unique specifications here.
Two-Choice Visual Discrimination Task:
This task involves learning that one of the two shapes displayed on the screen is correct. Touching the correct stimuli is rewarded and touching the incorrect stimuli is punished with a timeout where the mouse or rat cannot start another trial. Once the mouse or rat learns the correct stimuli, they are reversed so that the previously rewarded stimuli now results in punishment. This type of reversal learning requires the mouse or rat to inhibit automatic responses that require the prefrontal cortex. This task is a great measure of cognitive flexibility and is a great tool for examining animal models of many neuropsychiatric disorders.
Example of the two-choice visual discrimination task.
Paired Associate Learning (PAL)
In this task, mice or rats learn and remember which of three objects goes in which of three spatial locations. On each trial, two different objects are presented; one is in the correct location; the other in the incorrect location. The rat or mouse must choose which stimulus is in the correct location. This task relies on the hippocampus and can be used to test hippocampal dysfunction as seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
Visuomotor Conditional Learning (VMCL)
This task is a stimulus-response task. The rat or mouse must learn that two stimuli go with two different locations. When stimulus A is presented the rat or mouse must always respond to location A. If stimulus B is presented, the rat or mouse must always respond to location B. This type of test is useful for examining motor dysfunction in rat and mouse models of Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
5-Choice Serial Reaction Time (5CSRT)
This task requires the rodent to respond to a brief visual stimuli presented randomly in one of 5 locations. It is used to measure attention span and impulsivity control in mice and rats and is useful for animal models of ADHD.
Bari, A., Dalley, J. W., & Robbins, T. W. (2008). The application of the 5-choice serial reaction time task for the assessment of visual attentional processes and impulse control in rats. Nature Protocols, 3(5), 759–767. doi: 10.1038/nprot.2008.41
Crawley, J. N. (2007). Whats wrong with my mouse?: behavioral phenotyping of transgenic and knockout mice. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Interscience.
The TaskForcer and Imaging Adapter Base Mount were designed for simultaneous neural imaging during operant behavior. What’s unique about the imaging adapter base mount is that you can adjust x y and z positions, which allows you to adjust the TaskForcer angle under the 2-photon microscope. This is especially important for making sure the cranial window of the experimental test subject is parallel to the objective. Even slight changes to the angle of the cranial window can offset regions of interest in the imaging window and sacrifice data collection.
The base mount contains mm markings so you can precisely align the TaskForcer unit across experimental sessions that may be spaced days or weeks apart Although the mount was designed for the TaskForcer, it is sold separately and is compatible with a variety of behavioral setups. For more information about the imaging adapter base mount and the TaskForcer check out our TaskForcer product page.
Spatial memory is responsible for recording information about one’s environment. Humans, and rodents alike, use spatial memory to navigate through space. In rodents, spatial memory is used to remember the location of a food reward and the path it took to get there within a maze. The hippocampus is one of the main brain regions involved in spatial memory.
A group of neurons within the hippocampus called place cells display unique firing rates when an animal enters a specific location in space and are thought to form a cognitive representation or map of where the animal is in space.
How Can I Test Spatial Memory in Rats and Mice?
There are several tests for spatial memory in rats and mice, and one of the most common is the T-Maze. The T-Maze is named so because it is shaped like a T. In the T-Maze, the rodent starts at the base of the T and must choose between two arms to receive a reward that is placed at the end of either arm.
One of the most common tests using the T-Maze is the spontaneous alternation test. In the spontaneous alternation test, a reward is placed at the end of both arms. In the first trial, the rat or mouse chooses either arm and gets rewarded. On the next trial, the rat or mouse must remember the path it took previously and choose the opposite path to get rewarded.
Rodents with deficits in working memory will have trouble remembering the previous path they took. These types of deficits are often seen in Alzheimer’s disease, and therefore the T-Maze and spontaneous alternation task are useful for testing rodent models of Alzheimer’s.