Video-based data acquisition system for use in eye blink classical conditioning procedures in sheep.
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Pavlovian eye blink conditioning (EBC) has been extensively studied in humans and laboratory animals, providing one of the best-understood models of learning in neuroscience. EBC has been especially useful in translational studies of cerebellar and hippocampal function. We recently reported a novel extension of EBC procedures for use in sheep, and now describe new advances in a digital video-based system. The system delivers paired presentations of conditioned stimuli (CSs; a tone) and unconditioned stimuli (USs; an air puff to the eye), or CS-alone "unpaired" trials. This system tracks the linear distance between the eyelids to identify blinks occurring as either unconditioned (URs) or conditioned (CRs) responses, to a resolution of 5 ms. A separate software application (Eye Blink Reviewer) is used to review and autoscore the trial CRs and URs, on the basis of a set of predetermined rules, permitting an operator to confirm (or rescore, if needed) the autoscore results, thereby providing quality control for accuracy of scoring. Learning curves may then be quantified in terms of the frequencies of CRs over sessions, both on trials with paired CS-US presentations and on CS-alone trials. The latency to CR onset, latency to CR peak, and occurrence of URs are also obtained. As we demonstrated in two example cases, this video-based system provides efficient automated means to conduct EBC in sheep and can facilitate fully powered studies with multigroup designs that involve paired and unpaired training. This can help extend new studies in sheep, a species well suited for translational studies of neurodevelopmental disorders resulting from gestational exposure to drugs, toxins, or intrauterine distress.