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Behav Processes. 2011 Feb;86(2):272-8. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2010.12.007. Epub 2010 Dec 25.

Little and often? Maintaining continued performance in an automated T-maze for mice.

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Animal Behavior and Well-Being Group, Department of Animal Science, Purdue University, 915 West State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA.


Operant and maze tasks in mice are limited by the small number of trials possible in a session before mice lose motivation. We hypothesized that by manipulating reward size and session length, motivation, and hence performance, would be maintained in an automated T-maze. We predicted that larger rewards and shorter sessions would improve acquisition; and smaller rewards and shorter sessions would maintain higher and less variable performance. Eighteen C57BL/6J mice (9 per sex) acquired (criterion 8/10 correct) and performed a spatial discrimination, with one of 3 reward sizes (.02, .04, or .08 g) and one of 3 session schedules (15, 30, or 45 min sessions). Each mouse had a total of 360 min of access to the maze per night, for two nights, and averaged 190 trials. Analysis used split-plot GLM with contrasts testing for linear effects. Acquisition of the discrimination was unaffected by reward size or session length/interval. After-criterion average performance improved as reward size decreased. After-criterion variability in performance was also affected. Variability increased as reward size increased. Session length/interval did not affect any outcome. We conclude that an automated maze, with suitable reward sizes, can sustain performance with low variability, at 5-10 times faster than traditional methods.

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