TIGEM’s Behavioral Core Facility has three principal objectives. It aims to identify abnormal behaviors associated with genetic deletions or mutations in animal models that recapitulate human genetic diseases of interest. Upon finding such information, the Core tests whether and to what extent novel pharmacological or gene therapy techniques can be used to rescue these behavioral alterations. Last but not least, the Core designs and organizes novel behavioural tasks and procedures to study rodent behavior in mice, rats, and hamsters.
The Core combines basic knowledge of the biological processes underlying animal behavior with systematic use of the whole battery of behavioral tests available for rodents to date. In support of its research, the Behavioral Core is equipped with more than 30 different behavioral task tools (i.e. activity cage, elevated plus-maze, hot-plate, water maze, cross-maze, grip-strength meter, passive and active avoidance apparatus) for mice, rats and hamsters, which allow testing of basic sensory-motor functions, learning and memory processes, and emotional behaviors. The Core personnel helps and assists researchers in the planning, execution, data analysis, data interpretation, results dissemination, and application for grant funding for all behavioral and behavioral-pharmacogenetic experiments. Since its establishment in September 2007, the Behavioral Facility has taken part in sixteen internal collaborations that have led to an accumulation of experience specific to the behavioral phenotyping of many different animal models of human genetic diseases.
The Behavioral Facility has worked to identify behavioral alterations in animal models of lysosomal storage disorders, in particular in those of mucopolysaccharidoses. Mucopolysaccharidoses are a group of monogenic, rare, incurable disorders affecting children. Some lead to progressive bone and articular defects (eg. MPSVI), some cause neurodegeneration (eg. MPS-III and MPS-II) and others generate both types of phenotypes (eg. MSD). In the past years we have identified some specific behavioral alterations in each of these animal models, which we consider helpful parameters to test the efficacy and side effects of novel therapeutic strategies in vivo.
Testing vision in rodents: we have recently set-up behavioral procedures to test visual acuity in rodents by using the water maze task and validated it in an animal model of Parkinsonian eyes (Marrocco et al Scientific Reports 2019). We are currently working to make this task completely automatic to reduce personnel costs and improve theprotocol standardization. This task can be used to detect early vision symptoms in neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and rare genetic diseases affecting the retina and to test the efficacy of small molecules or gene therapy, with high predictive validity.