The rotarod test is widely used to evaluate the motor coordination of rodents, and is especially sensitive in detecting cerebellar dysfunction. However, mice with striatal dopamine depletion show only mild or no motor deficit on the typical accelerating rotarod. This suggests that dopamine-depleted mice are useful as animal models for non-motor symptoms, because the influence of motor deficit is minimum and easy to discriminate from cognitive aspects of the behavioral change. The typical accelerating rotarod test is designed to evaluate maximal motor performance and is not optimized to detect motor skill learning. In an attempt to make the test more selective to motor skill learning rather than maximal gait performance, we modified the rotarod test by using a slowly rotating large drum to obtain a steep learning curve. Furthermore, administration of nomifensine, a dopamine uptake inhibitor, improved the learning. On the other hand, apomorphine, an agonist of dopamine autoreceptor, a dopaminergic toxin, 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) impaired the learning. These pharmacological profiles fit the involvement of the so-called phasic dopamine neurotransmission. Using our modified procedure, we found impaired learning of Parkin-deficit mice, which has not been detected in typical accelerating rotarod. The modified rotarod test would be useful for evaluation of dopamine involvement in the acquisition of motor skill learning.
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