Assaying Aspects of Attention and Impulse Control in Mice Using the 5‐Choice Serial Reaction Time Task

Trevor Humby1, Lawrence Wilkinson1, Gerry Dawson2

1 Neurobiology Programme, The Babraham Institute, Cambridge, 2 The Neuroscience Research Centre, Merck, Sharp and Dohme, Terlings Park
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Neuroscience
Unit Number:  Unit 8.5H
DOI:  10.1002/0471142301.ns0805hs31
Online Posting Date:  May, 2005
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First developed in the 1980s by Trevor Robbins in Cambridge to investigate attentional function in rats, the 5‐choice serial reaction time task involves continuous scanning by the subject across a spatial array of visual stimuli. On detecting a brief stimulus at one of five locations, the subject must make a nose poke in order to collect a reward. The task has also been conducted successfully in several strains of mice, including transgenic models. This unit presents the procedures required to run the task in mice, outlining the expected results at each stage of training and presenting examples of the most common manipulations used to dissociate behavior further.

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Table of Contents

  • Strategic Planning
  • Basic Protocol 1: 5‐Choice Serial Reaction Time Task
  • Alternate Protocol 1: Manipulations of Basic 5‐Choice Task Parameters
  • Commentary
  • Literature Cited
  • Figures
  • Tables
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Basic Protocol 1: 5‐Choice Serial Reaction Time Task

  • Naive adult mice, 3 to 6 months old (25 to 35 g), 8 to 10 per test group
  • Standard solid laboratory mouse food (e.g. CRM‐P, Special Diets Service, U.K.)
  • 10% (v/v) condensed milk (e.g., Nestlé) in H 2O (prepare fresh every 2 days and keep refrigerated)
  • Small mouse holding boxes (17 cm wide × 49 cm long × 14 cm high) with mesh lids, no sawdust (standard commercially available mouse holding boxes, e.g., M3 large “shoebox” size)
  • 2 small cups (∼10 mm high × 20 mm diameter) for each holding box
  • Mouse 9‐hole boxes in sound‐attenuating chambers (e.g., Cambridge Cognition or Med Associates; see Figure )
  • Controlling computer software (e.g., Cambridge Cognition or Med Associates)
  • CCTV system (e.g., Tracksys, Ltd.)
NOTE: The methods here make use of test boxes equipped with liquid delivery systems rather than solid food dispensers. The authors prefer this method of reward delivery because it allows increased flexibility in the amount and concentration of reinforcement compared with solid food pellets. Similarly, mice find a 10% solution of condensed milk very palatable and are willing to work for this reward in the 5‐choice and many other tasks; however, sucrose solutions or “milk shakes” are equally effective and have been used in other laboratories (e.g., Bensadoun et al., ).

Alternate Protocol 1: Manipulations of Basic 5‐Choice Task Parameters

  • White noise generator (e.g., TechNix, The Babraham Institute, U.K.)
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Literature Cited

   Bensadoun, J.C., Brooks, S.P., and Dunnett, S.B. 2004. Free operant and discrete trial performance of mice in the nine‐hole box apparatus: validation using amphetamine and scopolamine. Psychopharmacology 174:396‐405.
   Blondel, A., Stolerman, I.P., and Shoaib, M. 2001. Task manipulations impair sustained attention of mice in the 5‐choice serial reaction time task (5‐choice). Soc. Neurosci. (Abstract).
   Bushnell, P.J. 1998. Behavioral approaches to the assessment of attention in animals. Psychopharmacology, 138:231‐259.
   Carli, M., Robbins, T.W., Evenden, J.L., and Everitt, B.J. 1983. Effects of lesions to ascending noradrenergic neurones on performance of a 5‐choice serial reaction task in rats: Implications for theories of dorsal noradrenergic bundle function based on selective attention and arousal. Behav. Brain Res. 9:361‐380.
   Davies, W., Isles, A.R., Burgoyne, P.S., and Wilkinson, L.S. 2004. X‐linked genetic mechanisms influencing cognition in mice. Am. J. Med. Genet. B Neuropsychiatr. Genet. 130B(1):149.
   Humby, T., Laird, F.M., Davies, W., and Wilkinson, L.S. 1999. Visuospatial attentional functioning in mice: Interactions between cholinergic manipulations and genotype. Eur. J. Neurosci. 11:2813‐2823.
   Isles, A.R., Davies, W., Burgoyne, P.S., and Wilkinson, L.S. 2003a. X‐linked gene dosage effects on fear, pre‐frontal dopamine, and GABA(A) α‐subunit gene expression. J. Psychopharmacol. 17(3):A26(Suppl. S).
   Isles, A.R., Humby, T., and Wilkinson, L.S. 2003b. Measuring impulsivity in mice using a novel operant delayed reinforcement task: Effects of behavioral manipulations and d‐amphetamine. Psychopharmacology 170:376‐382.
   Leonard, J.A. 1959. Five choice serial reaction apparatus. Medical Research Council, Applied Psychology Unit Reports vol. 326.
   Marston, H.M., Spratt, C., and Kelly, J.S. 2001. Phenotyping complex behaviours: Assessment of circadian control and 5‐choice serial reaction learning in the mouse. Behav. Brain Res. 125:189‐193.
   Robbins, T.W. 2002. The 5‐choice serial reaction time task: Behavioral pharmacology and functional neurochemistry. Psychopharmacology 163:362‐380.
   Wilkinson, R.T. 1963. Aftereffect of sleep deprivation. J. Exp. Psychology 66:439‐442.
   Young, J.W., Finlayson, K., Spratt, C., Marston, H.M., Crawford, N., Kelly, J.S., and Sharkey, J. 2004. Nicotine improves sustained attention in mice: Evidence for involvement of the alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. Neuropsychopharmacology 29:891‐900.
Key References
   Robbins, 2002. See above.
  Comprehensive overview of the 5‐choice task in rats, reviewing the pharmacology and involvement of the major neurotransmitter in performance of this task
   Humby et al., 1999. See above.
  Describes the mouse version of 5‐choice in detail, comparing two commonly used mouse strains, and examines the effects of task manipulations and scopolamine.
   Isles et al., 2003b. See above.
  Describes adaptation of the mouse 9‐hole box to assay aspects of choice impulsivity using a novel delayed reinforcement task.
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