Differences in behaviour and in forelimb cortical neurons of two rat strains following reach-training

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McVagh, John R.
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The brain undergoes structural changes in response to new experiences like learning a new skill. Skilled motor movements depend greatly on the primary motor cortex for their execution. Recent studies describe rat strain differences in motor performance related to differential synaptic efficacy in the motor cortex of rats. Previous studies identified differences in motor performance related to differential dendritic morphology and strain related differences in synaptic function in the motor cortex. Strain differences are one way of investigating anatomical organization and behaviour of the motor system. The object of this research was to examine strain related differences in dendritic morphology in layer II / III pyramidal cells of the forelimb area of the sensory motor cortex in both Long-Evans and Fischer 344 rats after reach training. This research also examined whether changes in reaching behaviour could be attributed to changes in dendritic morphology. Rats were trained once a day for 30 days to reach for a food pellet through a slot in a reaching box. Pyramidal cells in the motor sensory forelimb (MSF) cortex were stained with the Golgi Cox method. Subsequent analysis of Sholl and branch order data of cell drawings determined that there were no significant differences in any measure of dendritic length or dendritic length at branch order 3, 4, 5 of pyramidal cells in layer II/III of the MSF cortex between the Long Evans and Fischer 344 rat strain. The only significant strain related difference was that the Fischer 344 strain exhibited fewer reaches for each food pellet obtained, demonstrating greater reaching proficiency than similarly trained Long-Evans rats. These findings suggest that further research examining strain comparisons is required to understand the neural mechanisms underlying the differences in motor behaviour observed in these rat strains.
Rat strain comparisons, Motor learning, plasticity