Cognitive deficits are commonly observed in people with epilepsy, but the biologic causation of these is challenging to identify. Animal models of epilepsy can be used to explore pathophysiologic mechanisms leading to cognitive problems, as well as to test novel therapeutics. We utilized a well‐validated animal model of epilepsy to explore cognitive deficits using novel translational assessment tools/automated rodent touchscreen assays.
To induce epilepsy, adult Wistar rats were subjected to kainic acid–induced status epilepticus or sham control (n = 12/group). Two months following induction, animals underwent the Pairwise Discrimination and Reversal learning touchscreen tasks, novel object recognition, and the Y maze test of spatial memory.
In the Pairwise Discrimination paradigm, only 40% of epilepsy animals acquired the discrimination learning criterion, compared to 100% of sham animals (P = 0.003). Epilepsy and sham animals that successfully acquired the discrimination progressed onto the reversal phase, which measures cognitive flexibility. Of interest, there were no differences in the rate of reversal learning; however, on the first reversal session, epilepsy rats committed more perseverative errors than shams (mean ± SEM: 6.3 ± 0.9 vs 1.8 ± 0.5, P < 0.0001). Additional behavioral analysis revealed that epilepsy rats were significantly impaired in novel object recognition and short‐term spatial learning and memory.
Using translationally relevant behavioral tools in combination with traditional assays to measure cognition in animal models, here we identify impairments in learning and memory, and enhanced perseverative behaviors in rats with epilepsy. These tools can be used in future research to explore biologic mechanisms and treatments for cognitive deficits associated with epilepsy.