Operant and maze tasks in mice are limited by the small number of trials possible in a session before mice lose motivation. We hypothesized that by manipulating reward size and session length, motivation, and hence performance, would be maintained in an automated T-maze. We predicted that larger rewards and shorter sessions would improve acquisition; and smaller rewards and shorter sessions would maintain higher and less variable performance. Eighteen C57BL/6J mice (9 per sex) acquired (criterion 8/10 correct) and performed a spatial discrimination, with one of 3 reward sizes (.02, .04, or .08 g) and one of 3 session schedules (15, 30, or 45 min sessions). Each mouse had a total of 360 min of access to the maze per night, for two nights, and averaged 190 trials. Analysis used split-plot GLM with contrasts testing for linear effects. Acquisition of the discrimination was unaffected by reward size or session length/interval. After-criterion average performance improved as reward size decreased. After-criterion variability in performance was also affected. Variability increased as reward size increased. Session length/interval did not affect any outcome. We conclude that an automated maze, with suitable reward sizes, can sustain performance with low variability, at 5-10 times faster than traditional methods.
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