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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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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Basic Protocol 1: Single Pellet Reaching Test

  • 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

  • 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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Literature Cited

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Internet Resources
  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.
  Staircase: on the Cardiff University Brain Repair Group website.
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