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Pavlov's rats? Rodents trained to link rewards to visual cues
Date:1/24/2013

evoted to "high-level" processing, like the frontal cortex, which is known to be important for learning and memory. The primary visual cortex seemed to simply receive information from the eyes and "re-piece" the visual world together before presenting it to decision-making parts of the brain.

To monitor the vision-reward connection process, the team fitted rats with special goggles that let researchers flash a light before either their left or right eye. Thirsty rats with goggles were given access to a water spout inside a testing chamber. When they approached the water spout, a brief visual cue was presented to one eye.

If light was sent to the left eye, the water spout would have to be licked a few times before water came to the rat; if light was sent to the right eye, the rat would have to lick many more times before water came. After a few daily sessions of such "conditioning" (not unlike Pavlov's famous dog-bell-reward experiments), the rats learned how long they would have to lick before getting a water reward. If they didn't get the reward in the expected amount of time, they would give up and leave the spout.

Monitoring the pattern of electrical signals given off by individual nerve cells in the rat brains, the researchers found that the signals' "spikes" weren't just reflecting the visual cue alone. Rather, the signals seemed to relay the time of expected reward delivery through altered spiking patterns. They also saw that many nerve cells seemed to report one or the other visual cue-reward interval, but not both. In cells stimulated by a flash to the left eye, the electrical signal returned to its baseline after a short delay, in sync with the timing of the water reward; a cue to the right eye correlated with a longer delay, also in sync with the reward. According to the researchers, the amount of time that passed before nerve cells returned to their resting state was the brain's way of setting up a "timed expectation."

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Contact: Vanessa McMains
vmcmain1@jhmi.edu
410-502-9410
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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Pavlov's rats? Rodents trained to link rewards to visual cues
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