Butcher, G., Davidson, A., Sloanc, A. et al. 2021. An apparatus for automatically training and collecting individualized behavioral data with socially housed rodents. Journal of Neuroscience Methods 365, 109387.
Background: Conventional methods for individually housing, training, and testing rodents in behavioral assays can impose constraints that may limit some kinds of experimental external validity, preempt environmental enrichment, impose heavy experimenter time burdens that limit high-throughput data collection, and negatively impact animal welfare. New method: To address these issues, we created a simple apparatus for automatically collecting individually identified data with rodents in social and/or enriched housing. Results: We validated this “One Rat Turnstyle” (ORT) apparatus by utilizing it to automatically teach socially housed rats to individually press a lever without experimenter intervention or shaping. Results confirmed the feasibility and reliability of the apparatus, with almost all rats learning to move through the ORT and press a lever for sugar water by the end of the experiment. Rats had lower fecal cortisol when engaging with the ORT than with experimenter conducted daily behavioral training sessions. Comparison with existing method(s): The ORT is less electronically complex and more scalable compared to previous similar ideas. It requires only a 3d printer and the purchase of few parts. It is also designed to allow animals to quickly learn how to utilize it by minimizing passthrough time. Conclusions: Rats passed through the ORT both quickly and efficiently, self-administering reasonably timed behavioral sessions throughout the day. This success demonstrates that the ORT can enable the collection of both traditional and innovative, self-paced data in the context of socially housed animals, and may contribute to expanded, ecologically valid modelling