School of Biosciences
Main Building


The Brain Repair Group

The Rat "Staircase"

TestRat "staircase" reaching boxes now available


The Rat Staircase test

The staircase apparatus provides a simple efficient and easy to quantify test of skilled paw reaching in the rat.

Two food pellets are placed onto each step of two staircases located one on either side of a central plinth. Rats are placed in the box and can reach down either side of a plinth to grasp lift and retrieve food pellets from the steps of the staircase. The numbers of pellets removed provides a quantifiable measure of the distance and efficiency of reaching skill.

The design allows separate measurements of reaching capacity with the left and right paws, and does not require any constraint or restriction of the contralateral limb to measure performance on the two sides separately. The test is sensitive to unilateral lesions of the striatum, forebrain dopamine systems and sensorimotor cortex, as well as focal ischaemia.

Rats must make a coordinated reach and grasp to retrieve a pellet. They cannot simply scoop up pellets, which can confound the interpretation of results when measuring reaching into tubes.

The numbers of pellets removed and the number of pellets knocked down to lower steps provide separate measures of how far the rat can reach per se, from how far it can make a coordinated reach, grasp and retrieval of the pellet. For example striatal lesions have less effect on the actual distance of reaching than on the animal's ability to make a skilled grasp and retrieval.

The test provides objective quantification of reaching, measured simply in terms of numbers of pellets displaced and retrieved. It does not require observer ratings of numbers of reaching attempts, success or efficiency.

The staircase test has been adopted by several groups investigating the effects of unilateral lesions in the basal ganglia and motor systems of the brain, and is sensitive to the effects of drugs and grafts.

Publications known to us are listed here.

The Mouse Staircase test

After scaling down the size of the test boxes, a similar test design works well for mice. We have established effective parameters for testing young adult mice and are currently establishing systematically the parameters for testing mice of different strains, ages and sexes.

Availability of test boxes

In response to a number of enquiries, I have now arranged for Campden Instruments (a) in the UK to supply staircase test boxes for both rats and mice according to the design evolved in our laboratory over the last decade. We hope that by using common test parameters this will enable different groups to achieve consistent and comparable results between different centres. Further information is available on the Campden Instruments and Lafayette Instruments web pages.

For more information or purchase, please contact:

Stephen B. Dunnett
School of Biosciences
Cardiff University
Museum Avenue
PO Box 911
Cardiff CF10 3US

Campden Instruments
P.O. Box 8148

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