Although rarely used, long-term behavioral training protocols provide opportunities to shape complex skills in rodent laboratory investigations that incorporate cognitive, motor, visuospatial and temporal functions to achieve desired goals. In the current study, following preliminary research establishing that rats could be taught to drive a rodent operated vehicle (ROV) in a forward direction, as well as steer in more complex navigational patterns, male rats housed in an enriched environment were exposed to the rodent driving regime. Compared to standard-housed rats, enriched-housed rats demonstrated more robust learning in driving performance and their interest in the ROV persisted through extinction trials. Dehydroepiandrosterone/corticosterone (DHEA/CORT) metabolite ratios in fecal samples increased in accordance with training in all animals, suggesting that driving training, regardless of housing group, enhanced markers of emotional resilience. These results confirm the importance of enriched environments in preparing animals to engage in complex behavioral tasks. Further, behavioral models that include trained motor skills enable researchers to assess subtle alterations in motivation and behavioral response patterns that are relevant for translational research related to neurodegenerative disease and psychiatric illness.
Keywords: Animal learning; Emotional resilience; Enriched environment; Motor skill.
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