Current methods of cognitive testing in rodents, such as fear conditioning and maze testing, have led to important advancements. However, more recently, we have developed a new method of assessing cognitive behaviour in pre-clinical models, with potentially greater relevance to human disease. This method of testing is much more comparable to test batteries used in humans, such as CANTAB: it uses the same types of stimulus materials (objects and locations on a computer screen), and the same types of responses (responses directly to the stimuli on the screen using a touchscreen apparatus). Very simply, the rat or mouse views a display on the computer screen and makes a choice to an object or a location on the screen by responding directly to the touch-sensitive screen via a nose-poke. The animal is rewarded for correct choices with reward pellets delivered in a food receptacle at the back of the box. A number of published studies have demonstrated the utility of this method for neurobiological investigation. Although most of these studies have been done in the rat, we have now developed the method for mice.
This new form of assessment has three main advantages when compared with previous models. First, the tasks are more representative of the tasks used to measure cognitive deficits seen in patients - in many cases, virtually identical paradigms and methodologies can be used. Second, a battery approach can be taken - the tasks are carried out in the same apparatus, using the same type of stimuli, with the same rewards, and requiring the same responses, thereby controlling for many potential confounds. Third, there are a number of practical advantages -- many animals can be tested simultaneously, experimenter contact with animals during testing is minimised, and many behavioural measures are possible.
Our current test battery comprises nine tasks which target different aspects of cognitive functioning and different brain regions (particularly the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex and striatum).
Touchscreen Cognitive Testing Systems are now available from Campden Instruments.