Social learning task in rats | Noldus Customer Success Story

What we hope to achieve, is that we can further develop and validate this behavioral model of social interactions in rodents. In such a way that it will generate hypotheses or predictions that can be transferred to the human condition. My name is Marijn van Wingerden, I am the PI of the social rodent lab in the Düsseldorf University, and in the social rodent lab we are interested in social value, social behavior of animals. And we try to quantify how animals interact with their social partners, and how this social interaction is coded in the brain. So we think it is very important to investigate the concept of social value in contrast to self-value, because most of the interactions that we have on a day to day basis, are taking place in a social context. One of the experiments that we started in the lab, is the social reinforcement learning task. The idea is that we try to figure out whether social value affects decision-making in an observer rat. So two rats are trained, first seperately, then together. And in this task we try to figure out whether something good happening to the partner rat, will affect learning processes in the observer rat. So basically trying to figure out whether they can learn from each other. When one rat smells another rat, especially the breath, they can know that the other rat has eaten. And in my case this is important, because we have two conditions. One is where you have both rewards, so one rat will not only see and hear the other rat getting a reward, but he also afterwards finds out that he is rewarded. Therefore, exploring the social interaction where one rat is communicating with the other about the experience they just had, we can find out how they actually learn about the rewarding event. The combination of Noldus EthoVision for tracking the behavioral state and the position of the animal, in combination with Noldus UltraVox, has allowed us to combine information positions, but also keep track of the ultrasonic vocalizations that the animals are emitting. Now USVs, ultrasonic vocalizations, are an important marker of the affective state of the animal. And in this reinforcement learning task that Sander van Gurp has developed, the partner rat is sometimes rewarded, and sometimes not. And this differential reward could lead to differential emotional states. I am very excited to really look more closely at how the behavior which we observe is related to an underlying brain circuit. By finding out the function of the specific anatomical area in the brain, we can find out better how that area impacts the rest of the circuit in the brain that regulates social reinforcement learning. We know that there are patients that suffer from autism, or schizophrenia, who have impairments in social functioning. It would be really beneficial to have an adequate animal model that captures this social behavior. So in providing such an animal model, we hope to contribute to the development of potential interventions that could also help patient groups.

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