Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of learned behaviour in 'awake rodents' provides the opportunity for translational preclinical studies into the influence of pharmacological and genetic manipulations on brain function. fMRI has recently been employed to investigate learned behaviour in awake rats. Here, this methodology is translated to mice, so that future fMRI studies may exploit the vast number of genetically modified mouse lines that are available. One group of mice was conditioned to associate a flashing light (conditioned stimulus, CS) with foot shock (PG; paired group), and another group of mice received foot shock and flashing light explicitly unpaired (UG; unpaired group). The blood oxygen level-dependent signal (proxy for neuronal activation) in response to the CS was measured 24 h later in awake mice from the PG and UG using fMRI. The amygdala, implicated in fear processing, was activated to a greater degree in the PG than in the UG in response to the CS. Additionally, the nucleus accumbens was activated in the UG in response to the CS. Because the CS signalled an absence of foot shock in the UG, it is possible that this region is involved in processing the safety aspect of the CS. To conclude, the first use of fMRI to visualise brain activation in awake mice that are completing a learned emotional task is reported. This work paves the way for future preclinical fMRI studies to investigate genetic and environmental influences on brain function in transgenic mouse models of disease and aging.
Keywords: Pavlovian conditioning; amygdala; awake mouse fMRI; cued fear conditioning; nucleus accumbens.
© 2015 The Authors. European Journal of Neuroscience published by Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.