Virtual reality environments are part of a powerful tool set to investigate brain mechanisms of behavior in animals. For this, animals are mostly head-fixed or in a harness, and training for cognitively more complex VR paradigms is time consuming. A virtual reality apparatus allowing free animal movement and 24/7 operator-independent training of tasks would enable many new applications. Key prospective usages include brain imaging in behaving animals carrying a miniaturized mobile device such as a fluorescence microscope, or an optetrode. Here we introduce the servoball, a spherical virtual reality treadmill that is connected to the home cage from where single individuals can voluntarily enter through an RFID automated access control. We automatically trained rats that demonstrated use of visual or acoustic cues to solve spatial cognitive tasks, and recorded spatially modulated entorhinal cells. This integrated home cage with VR-arena experimental system permits highly efficient experimentation for complex cognitive experiments.
- Virtual reality
- freely moving
- spatial cognition
- operator independent
- Copyright © 2016, Journal of Neurophysiology