The pharmacological sensitivity of a touchscreen-based visual discrimination task in the rat using simple and perceptually challenging stimuli

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2012 Jun;221(3):437-49. doi: 10.1007/s00213-011-2590-z. Epub 2011 Nov 26.


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.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Computers
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects*
  • Dextroamphetamine / pharmacology
  • Discrimination Learning / drug effects*
  • Dizocilpine Maleate / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Memantine / pharmacology
  • Phencyclidine / pharmacology
  • Psychotropic Drugs / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Scopolamine / pharmacology


  • Psychotropic Drugs
  • Dizocilpine Maleate
  • Scopolamine
  • Phencyclidine
  • Dextroamphetamine
  • Memantine