The continuous performance test (rCPT) for mice: A novel operant touchscreen test of attentional function

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Rationale: Continuous performance tests (CPTs) are widely used to assess attentional processes in a variety of disorders including Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia. Common human CPTs require discrimination of sequentially presented, visually patterned 'target' and 'non-target' stimuli at a single location. Objectives: The aims of this study were to evaluate the performance of three popular mouse strains on a novel rodent touchscreen test (rCPT) designed to be analogous to common human CPT variants and to investigate the effects of donepezil, a cholinesterase inhibitor and putative cognitive enhancer. Methods: C57BL/6J, DBA/2J and CD1 mice (n = 15-16/strain) were trained to baseline performance using four rCPT training stages. Then, probe tests assessed the effects of parameter changes on task performance: stimulus size, duration, contrast, probability, inter-trial interval or inclusion of flanker distractors. rCPT performance was also evaluated following acute administration of donepezil (0-3 mg/kg, i.p.). Results: C57BL/6J and DBA/2J mice showed similar acquisition rates and final baseline performance following rCPT training. On probe tests, rCPT performance of both strains was sensitive to alteration of visual and/or attentional demands (stimulus size, duration, contrast, rate, flanker distraction). Relative to C57BL/6J, DBA/2J mice exhibited (1) decreasing sensitivity (d′) across the 45-min session, (2) reduced performance on probes where the appearance of stimuli or adjacent areas were changed (size, contrast, flanking distractors) and (3) larger dose- and stimulus duration-dependent changes in performance following donepezil administration. In contrast, CD1 mice failed to acquire rCPT (stage 3) and pairwise visual discrimination tasks. Conclusions: rCPT is a potentially useful translational tool for assessing attention in mice and for detecting the effects of nootropic drugs.