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Neurogenetics and Behavior Center Facilities

We have recently expanded our facilities, which now includes approximately 2,170 square feet dedicated to behavioral testing. With the addition of our new space the Center’s three behavioral modules now contain more than fifteen testing systems capable of running hundreds of protocols. The laboratory incorporates commercially available equipment as well as specially designed and customized testing equipment specifically built for the Center by our instrument fabricator, Jim Garmon, and his assistant, Sean Jordan. The combination of commercially available and customized equipment promotes the development of innovative behavioral paradigms and protocols for assessing phenotypes in three broad functional domains: Cognition, Affective, and Sensorimotor processes. Most of the behavioral tasks carried out in our in a state-of-the art, high throughput facility are video monitored and recorded.

Below are examples of just some of the state-of-the-art equipment we use to implement our innovative behavioral assessments in each of the 3 modules:

Cognitive Module
Assess functions of learning, memory, and attention

Olfactory System

Our olfactory system (below) is a custom designed, fully automated, computer controlled system that delivers 16 different odors in any combination, and up to 3 different liquid rewards during a session; it is in this system that we run our olfactory discrimination go-no-go task.
The testing chambers are individually housed within specially designed sound isolation chambers (Download Specification), and feature a modular construction (above) that allows the experimenter to easily modify the chambers to assess spatial discrimination (multiple wells, multiple locations), working memory (multiple odors; match and non-match to sample), and spatial working memory (multiple odors and wells). This system is also used to screen for motor reaction time and signal detection.
In a simple discrimination task the mouse is required to hold it’s snout in the odor port to sample an odor before receiving a liquid reward at the well (left). For video demonstration click here.


Eyeblink Conditioning System

In our eyeblink conditioning paradigm a conditioning stimulus (CS), either a tone or a light, precedes and co-terminates with an unconditioned stimulus (US), a mild peri-orbital shock, which elicits the reflexive eyeblink unconditioned response (UR). This simple form of learning relies heavily on cerebellar circuitry, but with simple parameter manipulations, can also engage brain regions such as the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex. Our eyeblink system (top right) was custom designed and built by JSA Designs (Raleigh, NC) and features a preparation that allows the mouse to move about the chamber freely (bottom right). Our system is interfaced with 8 conditioning chambers (4 sets of 4-chambers that can be independently programmed), permitting simultaneous testing of up to 8 mice. Our eyeblink conditioning protocol uses a tone and a light during training because a two-cue protocol allows for the examination of discrimination learning which offers a non-associative control condition and a probe of cerebellar (acquisition) and forebrain (reversal) substrates of learning, all within the same subjects.





Affective Module
Assess emotional and motivational functions

Operant System
We use standard operant boxes (Med Assoc, Inc., St. Albans, VT; above panel) to run a variety of tasks including Conditioned Reinforcement and Pavlovian-Instrumental Training (PIT). However, our boxes have been customized to include a 3 fluid reward delivery system, custom designed gustometers, activity monitors, and video monitoring and recording capabilities (left panel). These customized features allow additional tasks such as selective PIT and devaluation to be carried out. We can also assess consumption and progressive ratios in a more informative way. Without these adaptations, it would be difficult to carry out many of these innovative assessments. Click here for video demonstration


Fear Conditioning System

The figure below depicts our fear conditioning system and illustrates the two types of distinguishable inner test chambers housed within our custom designed sound isolation chambers (Download Specification). It should be noted that this behavioral procedure is applicable to the cognitive module in addition to the affective module


Sensorimotor Module
Focuses on processes of sensorimotor integration

Activity Apparatus: Multi Task Applications

Our open field platforms (Accuscan, Columbus, OH) are contained within custom-built sound isolation chambers (Download Specification) designed to reduce noise (above left panel). In addition, these chambers are outfitted with specially designed sliding trays (above right panel) on which the field is placed to allow ease of access. Alongside automated data collection, the chambers are equipped with cameras to allow for video monitoring and recording. In addition to use in open field and activity assessments (including short- and long-term habituation) this apparatus can be readily adapted (< 5 min prep) to assess performance on a variety of other applications, including conditioned place preference, conditioned place aversion, and odor recognition tasks (see protocols in Affect and Cognitive Modules).


Homecage Activity Monitoring System

With the Cleversys, Inc., (Reston, VA) HomecageScan software we are able to detect and quantify normal mouse behaviors in a homecage setting. Data from this system provides an activity baseline for the mice, which can aid in the interpretation of other cognitive behavioral results, particularly in genetically altered mice. This system also serves as a general screen for abnormal behaviors or variations in behaviors that may preclude other types of testing. The figure on the right depicts our activity system. Each cage is individually placed in an isolation chamber during each session, however the system can also be operated with cages placed in the open and next to each other. The bottom figure depicts an onscreen image of mice being monitored while in the cages.


Grip Strength System
The grip strength is a task designed to assess neuromuscular function and muscular strength by sensing the peak amount of force that is required to make a mouse release its grip. Forelimb grip strength is measured as tension force using a computerized grip strength meter (GSM). Our commercially purchased GSM (TSE systems, Inc., Midland, MI) has been modified to include a custom designed Single Axis Grip Strength Alignment Tool (SAGSAT; depicted above). The SAGSAT is an axis engaged sliding platform with a z-axis adjustable rod used for creating a center line of force upon a single load cell. The SAGSAT minimizes the potential error in all three axes when a laboratory animal is used with the GSM or similar devices.
Copyright © 2011 The Johns Hopkins University Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences