Food and water restriction lead to differential learning behaviors in a head-fixed two-choice visual discrimination task for mice

PLoS One. 2018 Sep 13;13(9):e0204066. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0204066. eCollection 2018.


Head-fixed behavioral tasks can provide important insights into cognitive processes in rodents. Despite the widespread use of this experimental approach, there is only limited knowledge of how differences in task parameters, such as motivational incentives, affect overall task performance. Here, we provide a detailed methodological description of the setup and procedures for training mice efficiently on a two-choice lick left/lick right visual discrimination task. We characterize the effects of two distinct restriction regimens, i.e. food and water restriction, on animal wellbeing, activity patterns, task acquisition, and performance. While we observed reduced behavioral activity during the period of food and water restriction, the average animal discomfort scores remained in the 'sub-threshold' and 'mild' categories throughout the experiment, irrespective of the restriction regimen. We found that the type of restriction significantly influenced specific aspects of task acquisition and engagement, i.e. the number of sessions until the learning criterion was reached and the number of trials performed per session, but it did not affect maximum learning curve performance. These results indicate that the choice of restriction paradigm does not strongly affect animal wellbeing, but it can have a significant effect on how mice perform in a task.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Welfare
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Food Deprivation / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Restraint, Physical / instrumentation
  • Restraint, Physical / methods
  • Thirst / physiology*

Grants and funding

This project has received funding from the Max Planck Society and the Collaborative Research Center SFB870 of the German Research Foundation (DFG) to T.B. and M.H.