Analysis of Skilled Forelimb Movement in Rats: The Single Pellet Reaching Test and Staircase Test

Alexander Klein1, Stephen B. Dunnett1

1 Brain Repair Group, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Neuroscience
Unit Number:  Unit 8.28
DOI:  10.1002/0471142301.ns0828s58
Online Posting Date:  January, 2012
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Abstract

Brain damage, stroke, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's or Huntington's disease can cause severe motor deficits in skilled forelimb use in both humans and rats. These deficits are typically analyzed in a reach‐to‐eat paradigm. Skilled reaching in rats has been found to be a good model of human skilled reaching. Therefore, rats serve as an excellent tool to monitor the development of deficits after neurological insults or changes after medical intervention. The following protocols comprise two different tests of rat skilled reaching. The single pellet reaching test is a paradigm that involves detailed rating and analysis of qualitative aspects of the reaching movement itself. The staircase test is an objective, high‐throughput reaching task that allows reaching success (number of pellets eaten) to be investigated in multiple rats at the same time. Both tests have been used extensively to investigate motor deficits and effects of treatment. Curr. Protoc. Neurosci. 58:8.28.1‐8.28.15. © 2012 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Keywords: motor deficits; neurodegenerative disease; reach‐to‐eat; motor impairment; staircase test; skilled reaching; motor skills and habits

     
 
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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Basic Protocol 1: Single Pellet Reaching Test
  • Basic Protocol 2: Staircase Test
  • Commentary
  • Literature Cited
  • Figures
  • Tables
     
 
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Materials

Basic Protocol 1: Single Pellet Reaching Test

  Materials
  • Food‐restricted adult rats (>180 g)
  • Food pellets (45‐mg sugar pellets; e.g., TestDiet)
  • Single pellet reaching test box
  • Digital video camera with manual shutter speed adjustment
  • Tripod mount
  • Auxiliary cold lighting source(s)
NOTE: See Critical Parameters for additional discussion of rat strains, housing conditions, food pellets, feeding restriction, test boxes, and video equipment.

Basic Protocol 2: Staircase Test

  Materials
  • Food‐restricted adult rats (>180 g)
  • Food pellets (45 mg sugar pellets; e.g., TestDiet)
  • Staircase test apparatus (one per rat)
  • Removable double staircase (one or two per test apparatus)
NOTE: See Critical Parameters for additional discussion of rat strains, housing conditions, food pellets, feeding restriction, and test boxes.
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Figures

  •   FigureFigure 8.28.1 Schematic views of the single pellet reaching box and camera setup. Images modified from Metz and Whishaw (). (A) Side view. The walls of the chamber are clear Plexiglas. The box must be sufficiently wide to allow the animal to turn around, but not so wide as to allow lateral movement beyond that required for turning. The box must be sufficiently long to allow the rat to walk to the opposite end, which is a critical parameter that helps ensure that the rat realigns its body with the box rather than turning and twisting around its body axis in front of the slot. Note the positioning of the camera and tripod. Auxiliary cold lighting is not shown, but would generally consist of two light sources placed to the left and right of the camera. (B) Front view. Note the positioning of the pellet placement indentations with respect to spacing of the slot. The indentations must be sufficiently distal from the slot boundaries to force the rat to reach for the pellets with its (preferred) paw, rather than its tongue. The indentations must also be aligned evenly with the edges of the slot to support paw preference. Note that left (L) and right (R) are defined from the perspective of the rat.
  •   FigureFigure 8.28.2 Reaching success scoring scale used during reaching training. Scoring is performed ‘on‐line’ during the actual experiment while the rats are reaching for individual pellets. For quantitation, attempts refer to limb advancement movements and are scored using the first five symbols starting from the top. To denote reaching events with the non‐preferred versus preferred paw, a straight horizontal line is superimposed on the scoring symbols (compare symbols on right and left). In the sample score from a 20‐trial session (bottom), note that all attempts are registered (vertical lines), but only terminated trials (either pellet eaten, pellet knocked off the shelf, pellet dropped in box, walked away, or tongue use) count toward the total 20 trials (which are separated by commas). Between trials, the rats are required to walk to the rear of the reaching box to prepare them for the next trial. A new trial begins when a rat orients toward the pellet in front of the slot and starts lifting its limb to reach for a pellet.
  •   FigureFigure 8.28.3 Excerpt from a scoring sheet used to evaluate reaching performance using frame‐by‐frame replay of video footage. Scoring scale: 0, normal behavior; 0.5, behavior present but abnormal; 1, movement component absent. Refer to and Table for additional details.
  •   FigureFigure 8.28.4 Staircase testing apparatus. (A) Staircase test box and its compartments. (B) Results from rat with a clear bias for the right staircase (only 4 pellets remain on the right compared to 19 pellets on the left). (C) Schematic side view of staircase.

Videos

Literature Cited

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   Alaverdashvili, M. and Whishaw, I.Q. 2010. Compensation aids skilled reaching in aging and in recovery from forelimb motor cortex stroke in the rat. Neuroscience 167:21‐30.
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   Sacrey, L.A., Alaverdashvili, M., and Whishaw, I.Q. 2009a. Similar hand shaping in reaching‐for‐food (skilled reaching) in rats and humans provides evidence of homology in release, collection, and manipulation movements. Behav. Brain Res. 204:153‐161.
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   Whishaw, I.Q. 1992. Lateralization and reaching skill related: Results and implications from a large sample of Long‐Evans rats. Behav. Brain Res. 52:45‐48.
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   Whishaw, I.Q. and Pellis, S.M. 1990. The structure of skilled forelimb reaching in the rat: A proximally driven movement with a single distal rotatory component. Behav. Brain Res. 41:49‐59.
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   Whishaw, I.Q., Woodward, N.C., Miklyaeva, E., and Pellis, S.M. 1997. Analysis of limb use by control rats and unilateral DA‐depleted rats in the Montoya staircase test: Movements, impairments and compensatory strategies. Behav. Brain Res. 89:167‐177.
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Internet Resources
  http://www.jove.com/Details.php?ID=816
  Video demonstration of the single pellet reaching test: Whishaw, I.Q., Whishaw, P., and Gorny, B. 2008. The structure of skilled forelimb reaching in the rat: A movement rating scale. J. Vis. Exp. Aug 8;(18). pii:816.
  http://www.cf.ac.uk/biosi/staffinfo/dunnett/stairtxt.html
  Staircase: on the Cardiff University Brain Repair Group website.
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