Behavioral testing and litter effects in the rabbit

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Background:Behavioral testing provides an essential approach in further developing our understanding of brain structure and function. The aim of our study was to outline a more expanded approach to cognition- and anxiety-related behavior in the rabbit.Methods:Twenty-one 70-day old rabbits (13 female, 8 male) were exposed to open field test, dark-light box test and object recognition testing with variations in inter-trial-interval, olfactory recognition and object location testing. Independent T-tests were used to compare data by individual baseline characteristics, i.e. birth weight, weight at testing, sex, litter #, litter size.Results:In the open field test, median time spent in the center was 3.64s (0.84–41.36) for the 9 rabbits who entered the center; median distance moved in the arena was 874.42cm (54.20–3444.83). In the dark light box test, 12 rabbits entered the light compartment. In the object recognition task, rabbits spent significantly less time exploring the familiar object compared to the novel (0.40s [0–2.8] vs. 3.17s [1.30–32.69]; P=0.003) when using a 30-min inter-trial interval, as well with a 90-min inter-trial interval: 0.87s [0–7.8] vs. 7.65s [0–37.6] (P=0.008). However, recognition was lost when using a 24-h inter-trial interval (time spent exploring the familiar object: 3.33 [0–10.90]; novel object:3.87 [1.15–48.53]; n.s). In the object location task and in olfactory object recognition task, median discrimination indexes were 0.69 (−1 to 1) and 0.37 (−0.38 to 0.78) respectively, higher than level expected by chance (P<0.001). Litter size >3 during the neonatal period was associated with increased explorative behavior in the dark light box test (P=0.046) and in the visual object recognition task (P=0.005), whereas body weight and sex were not.Conclusions:Settings and outcome measures for multiple behavioral tests, providing reference values and considerations for future developmental studies are reported. Discrimination and memory in the rabbit appear to relate to litter characteristics, although a larger sample size is needed to confirm our findings.HIGHLIGHTSA comprehensive approach to behavioral testing in the adult rabbit is described.The rabbits show intact object recognition memory longer than previously reported.Exploration and memory performance are dependent partly upon litter characteristics.

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