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Mice learn tasks that may help treat human psychiatric disorders

Mice that couldn't be dissuaded from the object of their attention by a piece of sweet, crunchy cereal may help researchers find new treatments and cures for human disorders like autism and Parkinson's disease.

For the first time, a psychiatric test for monitoring many human mental abnormalities has been adapted for use in mice, according to researchers at Purdue University, University of California-Davis and Justus-Liebig University in Giessen, Germany. The test involves the ability to switch attention from one task to another, a skill often impaired in people with autism and similar illnesses.

"Without a measure of cognitive deficit in mice that is relevant to such disorders in humans, research into new diagnostic methods, treatments and cures is severely hindered," said Joseph Garner, a Purdue assistant professor of animal sciences and the study's lead author. "The level of complexity at which we assess mouse behavior is often very rudimentary, and it just does not match up with subtleties of the cognitive deficits in human mental dysfunction or with the tools we use to study the mechanisms that underlie disorders in people."

Garner and his colleagues designed a task to measure a process called set shifting in which a focus on one object must be abandoned in favor of another object or task. This test long has been used to monitor brain processes involved in human psychiatric disorders and also has been tailored to a few other animals. However, researchers previously had not adapted it to the most-used of research mammals, the common laboratory mouse.

"Set shifting underlies our ability to use categories in day-to-day life and our ability to do many things including execute complex plans," Garner said.

Garner's team reports its findings in the journal Behavioural Brain Research, which is currently online.

Set shifting as an important neuropsychological skill applies to more human mental disorders than any other m
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Source:Purdue University


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