Reducing the number of non-human primates in research by developing a rodent model of selective attention


This research aims to reduce the number of non-human primates used in research on selective attention by developing a refined approach in rats.


Selective attention is the process by which brain focuses attention, consciously or unconsciously, on a single important event. Attention is fundamental to sensory and cognitive processing, and disorders of attention are among the most common and distressing neurological conditions, and are therefore an increasingly important target of scientific research.

Selective attention is generally considered a higher cognitive function, and for this reason non-human primates are currently the major animal models for its study, frequently requiring procedures such as head restraint and fluid control as an experimental motivator.

This research aims to produce a model of selective attention of reduced severity level in freely moving rats, avoiding the use of non-human primates. It may also lead to refinements in animal husbandry by increasing the understanding of cognitive behaviour in rodents.

Research details and methods

Behavioural responses to visual stimuli in freely moving rats will be used as measures of selective attention. The research will test the hypothesis that rats will be able to use spatial clues to allocate their attention. A state-of-the art system for controlling visual stimuli and measuring behavioural responses in freely moving rats will be developed.

Measures will include reduction in reaction times and improvements in accuracy in response to cues in various spatial locations, in order to establish if attention can be engaged by a prior spatial clue, by blocking of experimental trials, both of which are effective in humans and non-human primates.

This proposal is to develop and validate a rodent model of spatial attention in the visual pathway. Using computer-based image analysis to control head position and thus visual stimulus, we will assess if cueing spatial location improves performance and reaction times in a change detection task. We hypothesise that rodents will be able to use spatial cues to allocate endogenous attention, and that evidence for attention will be provided by a reduction in reaction time, and an improvement in accuracy, for spatial locations that are cued. We will establish whether endogenous attention can be engaged by a prior spatial cue, or by blocking of experimental trials, both of which are effective in humans and non-human primates.

De Franceschi G et al. (2016). Vision Guides Selection of Freeze or Flight Defense Strategies in Mice. Current Biology 26:16(2150-4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.06.006

Niranjan A et al. (2016). fMRI mapping of the visual system in the mouse brain with interleaved snapshot GE-EPI. NeuroImage 139:337-345. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.06.015

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Pilot study grant



Principal investigator

Dr Samuel Solomon


University College London


Professor Kathryn Jeffery

Grant reference number


Award date

Oct 2013 - Sep 2014

Grant amount