A comparison of Lewis and Fischer rat strains on autoshaping (sign-tracking), discrimination reversal learning and negative automaintenance

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Lewis (LEW) and Fischer (F344) rat strains differ on a number of physiological characteristics, such as hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis activity, as well as on behavioral tasks, including those that measure impulsivity and drug reward. Since autoshaping, the phenomenon where animals approach and contact reward-paired conditioned stimuli, has been linked to HPA axis functioning, impulsivity and drug taking, the present study compared LEW and F344 rats on the rate of acquisition and performance of the autoshaping response. Rats were trained on an autoshaping procedure where insertions of one retractable lever (CS+) were paired response-independently with food, while insertions of another lever (CS) were not paired with food. LEW rats acquired the autoshaping response more rapidly and also performed the autoshaping response at a higher rate than F344 rats. No differences between the strains were observed when rats were trained on a discrimination reversal where the CS+ and CS levers were reversed or during a negative automaintenance phase where CS+ lever contacts cancelled food delivery. Potential physiological mechanisms that might mediate the present results, including strain differences in HPA axis and monoamine neurotransmitter activity, are discussed. The finding that LEW (as compared to F344 rats) more readily acquire autoshaping and perform more responses is consistent with research indicating that LEW rats behave more impulsively and more readily self-administer drugs of abuse.

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