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J Neurosci Methods. 2000 Apr 15;97(2):103-10.

Assessing spatial vision - automated measurement of the contrast-sensitivity function in the hooded rat.

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Institute of Medical Psychology, Otto-von-Guericke University of Magdeburg, Leipziger Strasse 44, D-39120, Magdeburg, Germany.


The contrast-sensitivity function (CSF) provides a concise and thorough description of an organism's spatial vision; it is widely used to describe vision in animals and humans, to track developmental changes in vision, and to compare vision among different species. Despite the predominance of rats in neuroscience research, their vision is not thoroughly studied due to the complexity of psychophysical measurement and a generally held notion that rat vision is poor. We therefore designed an economical and rapid method to assess the hooded rat's CSF, using a computer monitor to display stimuli and an infrared touch screen to record responses. A six-alternative forced-choice task presented trials in which a sine-wave grating (S+), varying in spatial frequency and contrast, was displayed at different locations along with five gray stimuli (S-). Nose pokes to the S+ but not the S- produced water reinforcers. Contrasts were tested at each spatial frequency with a simple adaptive procedure until stimulus detection fell below chance. Psychometric functions were obtained by maximum-likelihood fitting of a logistic function to the raw data, obtaining the threshold as the function's point of inflection. As in previous studies with rats, CSFs showed an inverse-U shape with peak sensitivity at 0.12 cyc/deg and acuity just under 1 cyc/deg. The results indicate the present computer-controlled behavioral testing device is a precise and efficient instrument to assess spatial visual function in rats.

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