Volume 29 (2004) Issue 1 Pages 53-61
In fear-conditioning paradigms, rats display a freezing response not only upon presentation of a conditioned stimulus (usually tone), but also when returned to a conditioning chamber (context) in which they received an unconditioned stimulus (usually a foot shock). These paradigms have intrinsic advantages for screening effects of chemicals on learning and memory, although the time-consuming monitoring of freezing time by human observers may be problematic. In this study, an automated apparatus was developed to optimize a fear-conditioning paradigm for screening. We developed an apparatus that records freezing time measured from body movements detected by passive infrared (PIR) sensors. The apparatus detected freezing time as accurately as the human scoring method, and these data were used to determine learning parameters (freezing time to context or to tone) and a non-learning parameter (freezing time to novel context) in the rats. Rats orally administered the neurotoxic compound trimethyltin (TMT) exhibited decreased freezing levels to context, but not to tone or to novel context. These results suggest that this automated method can be an effective part of a screening program.