Many researchers assume that laboratory rats have poor vision, and accordingly, that they need not consider differences in the visual function of rats as a consequence of strain or experience. Currently, it is not specifically known whether rat domestication has negatively affected the visual function of laboratory rat strains, what the effects of strain albinism are on rat visual function, or whether there are strain differences in the visual function of laboratory rats that are independent of pigmentation. In order to address these questions, we measured psychophysically the vertical grating acuity of three pigmented (Dark Agouti, Fisher-Norway, Long-Evans) and three albino (Fisher-344, Sprague-Dawley, Wistar) strains of laboratory rats, and compared their acuity with that of wild rats. The grating thresholds of Dark Agouti, Long-Evans and wild strains clustered around 1.0 cycle/degree (c/d) and did not significantly differ from one another. Fisher-Norway rats, however, had a significantly higher threshold of 1.5 c/d. The grating thresholds of Fisher-344, Sprague-Dawley, and Wistar strains, which were clustered around 0.5 c/d, were significantly lower than those of the pigmented strains. These data demonstrate that there is significant strain variability in the visual function of laboratory rats. Domestication of Long-Evans and Dark Agouti strains does not appear to have compromised visual acuity, but in the case of Fisher-Norway rats, selective breeding may have enhanced their acuity. Strain selection associated with albinism, however, appears to have consistently impaired visual acuity. Therefore, a consideration of strain differences in visual function should accompany the selection of a rat model for behavioral tasks that involve vision, or when comparing visuo-behavioral measurements across rat strains.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science B.V.