Young pigs exhibit differential exploratory behavior during novelty preference tasks in response to age, sex, and delay

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Novelty preference paradigms have been widely used to study recognition memory and its neural substrates. The piglet model continues to advance the study of neurodevelopment, and as such, tasks that use novelty preference will serve especially useful due to their translatable nature to humans. However, there has been little use of this behavioral paradigm in the pig, and previous studies using the novel object recognition paradigm in piglets have yielded inconsistent results. The current study was conducted to determine if piglets were capable of displaying a novelty preference. Herein a series of experiments were conducted using novel object recognition or location in 3- and 4-week-old piglets. In the novel object recognition task, piglets were able to discriminate between novel and sample objects after delays of 2 min, 1 h, 1 day, and 2 days (all P < 0.039) at both ages. Performance was sex-dependent, as females could perform both 1- and 2-day delays (P < 0.036) and males could perform the 2-day delay (P = 0.008) but not the 1-day delay (P = 0.347). Furthermore, 4-week-old piglets and females tended to exhibit greater exploratory behavior compared with males. Such performance did not extend to novel location recognition tasks, as piglets were only able to discriminate between novel and sample locations after a short delay (P > 0.046). In conclusion, this study determined that piglets are able to perform the novel object and location recognition tasks at 3-to-4 weeks of age, however performance was dependent on sex, age, and delay.

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