Using touchscreen-delivered cognitive assessments to address the principles of the 3Rs in behavioral sciences
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Despite considerable advances in both in silico and in vitro approaches, in vivo studies that involve animal model systems remain necessary in many research disciplines. Neuroscience is one such area, with studies often requiring access to a complete nervous system capable of dynamically selecting between and then executing a full range of cognitive and behavioral outputs in response to a given stimulus or other manipulation. The involvement of animals in research studies is an issue of active public debate and concern and is therefore carefully regulated. Such regulations are based on the principles of the 3Rs of Replacement, Reduction and Refinement. In the sub-specialty of behavioral neuroscience, Full/Absolute Replacement remains a major challenge, as the complete ex vivo recapitulation of a system as complex and dynamic as the nervous system has yet to be achieved. However, a number of very positive developments have occurred in this area with respect to Relative Replacement and to both Refinement and Reduction. In this review, we discuss the Refinement- and Reduction-related benefits yielded by the introduction of touchscreen-based behavioral assessment apparatus. We also discuss how data generated by a specific panel of behavioral tasks developed for this platform might substantially enhance monitoring of laboratory animal welfare and provide robust, quantitative comparisons of husbandry techniques to define and ensure maintenance of best practice.