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Behav Brain Res. 2003 Oct 17;145(1-2):221-32.

Long-Evans and Sprague-Dawley rats have similar skilled reaching success and limb representations in motor cortex but different movements: some cautionary insights into the selection of rat strains for neurobiological motor research.

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The Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, The University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alta., Canada T1K 3M4.


Many rat strains are used for neurobiological studies of nervous system function and behavior. The most widely used strain for studies of the neural basis of movement is the out bred, pigmented Long-Evans strain, while the most widely used strains for the study of movement impairments in neurological disease are out bred albino rats, including Sprague-Dawley rats. Although previous research has indicated that there are strain differences in skilled movements displayed by different rat strains, there has been no explicit comparison of the Long-Evans and Sprague-Dawley strains. This was the purpose of the present study. The rats were video recorded as they learned to reach for single food pellets and the video records were subjected to frame-by-frame analysis. Component movements of reaching were scored using a system derived from Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation (EWMN). The quality of movements was described using Laban Movement Analysis (LMA). Forelimb representations in motor cortex were defined electrophysiologically. Acquisition scores and success in reaching did not differ between the two strains, nor did the topographical representation of the forelimb in motor cortex. Long-Evans and Sprague-Dawley rats did differ in the movements used for reaching and on the quality of their movements. The movements of Sprague-Dawley rats resembled the movements of Long-Evans rats with motor system injury. That rat strains can show both quantitative and qualitative differences in movement is useful for the understanding of the genetic, neural, and behavioral organization of the motor system. The results are also relevant to the question of appropriateness of particular rat strains for studies of neurological diseases and the effects of albinism on motor behavior, and suggest that some of the most widely used rat strains for neurological investigations may be less than appropriate.

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