Abilities in tactile discrimination of textures in adult rats exposed to enriched or impoverished environments

Behav Brain Res. 2004 Aug 12;153(1):217-31. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2003.12.002.


In previous studies, we have shown that housing in enriched environment for about 3 months after weaning improved the topographic organization and decreased the size of the receptive fields (RFs) located on the glabrous skin surfaces in the forepaw maps of the primary somatosensory cortex (SI) in rats [Exp. Brain Res. 121 (1998) 191]. In contrast, housing in impoverished environment induced a degradation of the SI forepaw representation, characterized by topographic disruptions, a reduction of the cutaneous forepaw area and an enlargement of the glabrous RFs [Exp. Brain Res. 129 (1999) 518]. Based on these two studies, we postulated that these representational alterations could underlie changes in haptic perception. Therefore, the present study was aimed at determining the influence of housing conditions on the rat's abilities in tactile texture discrimination. After a 2-month exposure to enriched or impoverished environments, rats were trained to perform a discrimination task during locomotion on floorboards of different roughness. At the end of every daily behavioral session, rats were replaced in their respective housing environment. Rats had to discriminate homogeneous (low roughness) from heterogeneous floorboards (combination of two different roughness levels). To determine the maximum performance in texture discrimination, the roughness contrast of the heterogeneous texture was gradually reduced, so that homogeneous and heterogeneous floorboards became harder to differentiate. We found that the enriched rats learned the first steps of the behavioral task faster than the impoverished rats, whereas both groups exhibited similar performances in texture discrimination. An individual "predilection" for either homogeneous or heterogeneous floorboards, presumably reflecting a behavioral strategy, seemed to account for the absence of differences in haptic discrimination between groups. The sensory experience depending on the rewarded texture discrimination task seems to have a greater influence on individual texture discrimination abilities than the sensorimotor experience related to housing conditions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Environment, Controlled*
  • Female
  • Forelimb / physiology
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena
  • Touch / physiology*