Rationale: Cognitive testing with touchscreen-equipped operant boxes ('touchscreens') is becoming increasingly popular. Tasks, such as paired associate learning or reversal learning of visual stimuli, have the discrimination of visual stimuli as a fundamental component. However, the effect of drugs commonly used in the study of cognitive mechanisms has yet to be described in a visual discrimination.
Objective: The objective of the study was to profile a range of psychoactive agents (glutamatergic, dopaminergic, and cholinergic agonists and antagonists) known to be important in cognitive processing on visual discrimination performance using a touch sensitive computer monitor.
Methods: Male Lister Hooded rats were trained to a stable level of performance in a simple visual discrimination. In Experiment 1, the effect of MK-801, phencyclidine, memantine, dextroamphetamine sulphate (D-amphetamine) and scopolamine was assessed. In Experiment 2, the stimuli were blended together resulting in a perceptually more demanding discrimination and a reduction in accuracy. The rats used in Experiment 1 were then retested with these 'morphed' stimuli under the influence of the above compounds.
Results: MK-801, PCP, and D-amphetamine induced selective deficits in accuracy in both versions of the task. In contrast, scopolamine and memantine produced non-selective deficits in accuracy. Morphing the stimuli reduced accuracy, but did not alter the observed behavioural profile after compound administration.
Conclusion: These data improve our understanding of the basic neuropharmacology of a visual discrimination in cognitive tests employing touchscreens and will aid in the interpretation of pharmacological studies with more cognitively demanding methodologies.