As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, at this year's Neuroscience I talked to someone from the Gerlai Lab at the University of Toronto (Ontario) who is involved in very interesting research on alcohol addiction. That person was Steven Tran, and I am very happy to say that he agreed to share a story on our Behavioral Research Blog. Take it away, Steven!
Mouse models have proven to be essential in discovering the neurological underpinnings of diseases and to the development of a deeper understanding of genotype-phenotype relations. Behavioral phenotyping of these mice is very important, evidenced by the variety of tests that have been described in literature. Unfortunately, many of these tests are susceptible to bias, for example, testing in a novel environment. Bias can also result from handling animals prior to the tests, which can induce artificial behaviors that confound results.
Aggressive behavior is typically adaptive for most species in the animal kingdom. Examples of this can be seen in maternal aggression to protect one’s young, and defense of a home territory; both of these contribute to the survival of an individual, and the species as a whole. But how is aggressive behavior mediated in the brain? Recent work indicates that the hippocampus in general, and the CA2 region in particular, is a crucial neural component in mediating social recognition and aggression. What CA2-specific mechanisms allow for such regulation?
It is almost time for the 9th European Zebrafish Meeting in Oslo, Norway! So here are a couple of recent publications on zebrafish research to get you in the mood.
Military dogs, especially improvised explosive device (IED)-detection dogs, work in war zones under harsh conditions. Being attuned to fear-inducing sounds and recovering quickly is a critical requirement. Margaret Gruen and her colleagues recently investigated a new method to assess sound induced fear and anxiety in candidate IED-detection dogs – specifically, Labrador retrievers.
We cannot stay behind when it comes to the end-of-year lists, so here is a top 14 of 2014’s most popular animal behavior posts on our Noldus behavioral research blog. (For a top 3 on human behavior research, see this post) As expected, the list is dominated by zebrafish research, but it’s not the topic of our most read post!
Zebrafish. This small little fish is a vertebrate, and a relatively complex one at that. Looking at all the major neurotransmitters and hormones that are investigated in neuroscience, they are as good of a model as many mammalian species. Indeed, recent studies have shown how they are ideal for testing in behavioral domains such as anxiety, sociality, sleep, reward, and cognition.
Anxiety. It is nature’s way to keep us out of harm’s way, so it is a useful emotion. At times, though, it can also be overwhelming. For some, it gets out of control, irrational, and even disabling. This is when we call it an anxiety disorder. Did you know that anxiety affects 20% of all people in some way or form? No wonder anxiety disorders are often subject of scientific study.
Anxiety in animals
Rats and mice are often used as model organism to study the basics of anxiety and anxiety disorders, possible treatments, neurodevelopment, and genetic backgrounds. The most well-known test paradigm is the elevated plus maze.
And how to study their behavior in great detail
If you want to get on in life, is it better to make friends, or should you trample down the competition? Maybe we can learn something from animals… Take hens for example, we probably all know what a ‘pecking order’ is. As a hen, if you don’t peck back, you will definitely loose out. On the other hand, if you are a pig, being social will get you somewhere. In fact, studies show that social pigs are healthier and grow better, and having social pen mates also has these positive effects.
Reimert et al. wanted to look at the behavior of social pigs more closely. In their recent study (published Applied Animal Behaviour Science), they used both video tracking and scoring of behavior to assess behavior in a combined novel location and novel object test.
Topics: EthoVision XT, The Observer XT, animal behavior research, social behavior research, video observation, coding schemes, animal welfare, tracking, anxiety research, pigs, ethogram, Pocket Observer
Often in animal research, animals with a certain genetic alteration are compared to a “wild-type” (this being the ‘normal’ rat, mouse, or zebrafish). One might assume that there is no difference between one wild-type animal and the next, but in fact, many different strains of wild-type animals are used.
Many wild-type zebrafish strains
The same is true for zebrafish. Many studies talk of wild-type animals, but the strain is not always mentioned. Furthermore, wild-type fish can be acquired at the pet shop, from a commercial scientific supplier, or simply caught in the wild. Vignet et al. noticed that there have been reports of differences in behavior between wild-type strains, and therefore they stress the importance of matching the most appropriate strain to the behavioral test.
Topics: EthoVision XT, Video tracking, fish, zebrafish, exploratory behavior, learning and memory, anxiety research, circadian rhytmicity, T-maze, color discrimination, novel tank test, light/dark challenge, bottom dwelling