Automation - towards thorough and efficient behavioral research in neuroscience

Animal models of intellectual impairments and affective disorders are commonly used in neuroscientific research, aiming at investigating mechanisms and proposing therapeutic solutions to those widespread health problems. There is a whole range of behavioral assays for evaluating cognitive and behavioral impairments in rodents. Most of them require individual testing of animals and include their handling by an experimenter. Such experimental arrangement may exert confounding, anxiety-related effects on obtained data and result in large between-laboratory variability. These problems can be circumvented by standardization of fully automated testing methods. Moreover, automation of research allows for constant testing and saves man-power as well as research funds. Ultimately, establishing replicable and reliable assays for assessment of cognitive and affective behaviors of laboratory animals would be an important step towards reliable investigations of brain mechanisms underlying behavioral pathologies and development of new therapeutic strategies.
Over the last few decades many new technologies have been developed to advance such research. One of them are video-tracking methods that allow for computerized assessment of animals' movement and locomotor activity. Alternative, methods of tracking animals are based on RFID technology. The clear advantage offered by the latter solution is collecting data on animal position without the need of large data storage. In present project we employed RFID technology for investigation of social interactions in group housed mice in conditions imitating their natural habitats.
Video-tracking and RFID identification are commonly used in investigation of home-cage activity and learning in rodents. Computer controlled systems for testing different types of learning are increasingly popular in behavioral laboratories. There are also numerous systems measuring metabolic activity, as well as food or drug intake in individual animals.
All described methodological advances in behavioral neuroscience would not be possible without implementing novel, electronic-based solutions. Nevertheless, many of those automated behavioral assays still have substantial limitations that restraint their usage in laboratory routine. Application of novel electronic technologies may boost their development and increase their utility.

Author: Alicja PuĊ›cian
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