Operant behavior performance changes in rats after prenatal methylmercury exposure

M. Bornhausen, H. R. Müsch, H. Greim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Methylmercury chloride (MMC) in doses of 0.005 - 0.05 mg/kg was force fed to pregnant rats at the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth day after conception. When 4 months of age the offspring were tested in lever boxes with the operant conditioning program "differential reinforcement of high rates" (DRH). Food reinforcement was made contingent to the fulfillment of performance requirements which were incrementally increased in three steps: In the first test session the animals were required to press the lever twice in 1 sec for one food reward (DRH 2 1); in the following test sessions four lever presses in 2 sec (DRH 4 2) and eight lever presses in 4 sec (DRH 8 4) were required for one reward, respectively. Animal performance in this behavioral paradigm was expressed as the group mean (n = 10) of the ratio of correct, i.e., rewarded, responses to total lever presses per session. MMC-induced performance deficits were found in the 4 × 0.05 and 4 × 0.01 mg/kg dose groups. DRH-learning differences were ascertained by an analysis of variance. The lowest effective dose of 4 × 0.01 mg/kg points to operant conditioning techniques as a suitable tool in environmental toxicology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-310
Number of pages6
JournalToxicology and Applied Pharmacology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1980
Externally publishedYes


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