So Mehta and his colleagues, including cofirst authors Jesse Cushman and Daniel Aharoni, developed a virtual-reality apparatus that allowed them to construct both visual and auditory virtual environments. As video of the environment was projected around them, the rats, held by a harness, were placed on a ball that rotated as they moved. The researchers then trained the rats on a very difficult task that required them to navigate to a specific location to get sugar water a treat for rats through a reward tube.
The visual images and sounds in the environment could each be turned on or off, and the researchers could measure the rats' anticipation of the reward by their preemptive licking in the area of the reward tube. In this way, the scientists were able for the first time to measure rodents' navigation in a nearly real-world space while also gauging their reward anticipation.
"Navigation and reward consuming are things all animals do all the time, even humans. Think about navigating to lunch," Mehta said. "These two behaviors were always thought to be governed by two entirely different brain circuits, but this has never been tested before. That's because the simultaneous measurement of reward anticipation and navigation is really difficult to do in the real world but made possible in a virtual world."
When the rat was in a "normal" virtual world, with both sound and sight, legs and tongue worked in harmony the legs headed for the food reward while the tongue licked where the reward was supposed to be. This confirmed a long held expectation, that different behavi
|Contact: Mark Wheeler|
University of California - Los Angeles