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Mammalian orienting behavior consists of coordinated movements of the eyes, head, pinnae, vibrissae, or body to attend to an external stimulus. The present study aimed to develop a novel operant task using a touch-screen system to measure spatial attention. In this task, rats were trained to nose-poke a light stimulus presented in one of three locations. The stimulus was presented more frequently in the center location to develop spatial attention bias toward the center stimulus. Changes in orienting responses were detected by measuring the animals’ response accuracy and latency to stimuli at the lateral locations, following reversible unilateral chemogenetic inactivation of the superior colliculus (SC). Additionally, spontaneous turning and rotation behavior was measured using an open-field test (OFT). Our results show that right SC inactivation significantly increased the whole body turn angle in the OFT, in line with previous literature that indicated an ipsiversive orientating bias and the presence of contralateral neglect following unilateral SC lesions. In the touch screen orienting task, unilateral SC inactivation significantly increased bias toward the ipsilateral side, as measured by response frequency in various experimental conditions, and a very large left-shift of a respective psychometric function. Our results demonstrate that this novel touchscreen task is able to detect changes in spatial attention and orienting responses because of e.g. experimental manipulations or injury with very high sensitivity, while taking advantage of the touch screen technology that allows for high transferability of the task between labs and for open-source data sharing through https://www.mousebytes.ca.
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