Behavioral Core

Behavioral Testing

Behavioral assessment in animal models is often a necessary component for answering research questions effectively. The Behavioral Core provides a range of paradigms to measure discrete and varied forms of behavior, which can then be related to underlying physiological processes. Our modular equipment and software allows either automated or experimenter-based recording to facilitate rapid acquisition of data.

Our Facility

Our facility is located in the Animal Resource Center (ARC) within the Lee Medical Building on the USD campus in Vermillion.

Subjects can be housed in state of the art holding facilities (contact ARC Director Kevin O'Kelley and/or ARC Manager Megan Carlson for further details on animal housing). Behavioral testing rooms are adjacent to holding rooms, minimizing transport stress.

Behavioral testing rooms are fully enclosed to prevent disturbance and distraction from outside sources. Rooms are equipped with overhead digital cameras that feed images to automated tracking software. Rooms also have adjustable lighting to permit testing under normal or reverse light cycle conditions.

Available Equipment

A variety of rodent testing apparatuses are available for use, including:

  • Water maze (large & small), radial arm maze (8-arm) and T-maze
    This apparatus measures spatial learning and memory assessment along with tests for cognitive executive function, e.g., working memory and attention. The radial arm maze has infrared-lit walkways to ensure optimal subject detection by automated tracking software.
  • Open field (large & small)
    This apparatus measures anxiety, locomotion, novelty responses and social interaction.
  • Elevated plus maze (large & small)
    This apparatus measures generalized anxiety.
  • Operant conditioning chambers
    These drug self-administration chambers are used to assess acquisition and maintenance of drug-taking behavior. Each chamber is enclosed in a sound-attenuated box, is equipped with two retractable levers plus associated conditioned stimulus lights and has foot-shock capability to measure stress-induced acquisition and reinstatement. An associated computer can control all four chambers simultaneously.
  • Porsolt forced swim cylinders
    These apparatuses measure anxiety and depression-like behavior. They are equipped with infrared backlights to ensure optimal subject detection by automated tracking software and are suitable for use with large and small subjects.
  • Hyperalgesia and allodynia assays
    -Uses nociception - Plantar Test Instrument (Hargreave's method) to measure response to a pain-inducing infrared heat stimulus.
    -Tests hypersensitivity and allodynia using an electronic Von Frey apparatus for automatically assessing sensitivity to non-painful stimuli (allodynia).
  • Rotarod apparatus
    This apparatus monitors motor coordination and fatigue and includes software for PC-based control and data collection.
  • Automated tracking of subject movement using Noldus Ethovision software:
    This apparatus allows rapid processing and collation of data, which can be easily exported to other programs for statistical analysis.
  • Laptop computers loaded with Noldus Observer XT software:
    These computers allow experimenter-based scoring of specific non movement-based behaviors, e.g., aggression and stereotypy.

Facility Use

  • Users must have USD Insitutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) approval for all behavioral tests they wish to perform
  • Researchers can reserve rooms and equipment remotely using the online Booked electronic scheduling platform
  • Priority of use is given to internal (USD) researchers, with scheduling based on equipment availability
  • First-time users will be trained by the Behavioral Core director, who can also provide advice on experimental design and data analysis and interpretation
  • Once trained, users are responsible for conducting experiments
  • USD and USD-affiliated researchers may use for the facility for free. External charge rates may apply for outside entities. Contact Core Manager Mick Watt for a quote or details about available services.

For further information on Behavioral Core capabilities and use, please contact:

Name Department & Office Contact
Michael Watt
  • Associate Professor
BASIC BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES
Lee Medicine & Science Hall 265