Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 19023420
Link to DOI – 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000229
PLoS Comput Biol 2008 Nov; 4(11): e1000229
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are widely expressed throughout the central nervous system and modulate neuronal function in most mammalian brain structures. The contribution of defined nAChR subunits to a specific behavior is thus difficult to assess. Mice deleted for beta2-containing nAChRs (beta2-/-) have been shown to be hyperactive in an open-field paradigm, without determining the origin of this hyperactivity. We here develop a quantitative description of mouse behavior in the open field based upon first order Markov and variable length Markov chain analysis focusing on the time-organized sequence that behaviors are composed of. This description reveals that this hyperactivity is the consequence of the absence of specific inactive states or “stops”. These stops are associated with a scanning of the environment in wild-type mice (WT), and they affect the way that animals organize their sequence of behaviors when compared with stops without scanning. They characterize a specific “decision moment” that is reduced in beta2-/- mutant mice, suggesting an important role of beta2-nAChRs in the strategy used by animals to explore an environment and collect information in order to organize their behavior. This integrated analysis of the displacement of an animal in a simple environment offers new insights, specifically into the contribution of nAChRs to higher brain functions and more generally into the principles that organize sequences of behaviors in animals.