Chronic detachable headphones for acoustic stimulation in freely moving animals.
Nodal FR., Keating P., King AJ.
A growing number of studies of auditory processing are being carried out in awake, behaving animals, creating a need for precisely controlled sound delivery without restricting head movements. We have designed a system for closed-field stimulus presentation in freely moving ferrets, which comprises lightweight, adjustable headphones that can be consistently positioned over the ears via a small, skull-mounted implant. The invasiveness of the implant was minimized by simplifying its construction and using dental adhesive only for attaching it to the skull, thereby reducing the surgery required and avoiding the use of screws or other anchoring devices. Attaching the headphones to a chronic implant also reduced the amount of contact they had with the head and ears, increasing the willingness of the animals to wear them. We validated sound stimulation via the headphones in ferrets trained previously in a free-field task to localize stimuli presented from one of two loudspeakers. Noise bursts were delivered binaurally over the headphones and interaural level differences (ILDs) were introduced to allow the sound to be lateralized. Animals rapidly transferred from the free-field task to indicate the perceived location of the stimulus presented over headphones. They showed near perfect lateralization with a 5 dB ILD, matching the scores achieved in the free-field task. As expected, the ferrets' performance declined when the ILD was reduced in value. This closed-field system can easily be adapted for use in other species, and provides a reliable means of presenting closed-field stimuli whilst monitoring behavioral responses in freely moving animals.