Tackling the reproducibility crisis in neuroscience

Implementing a standardized approach for studying decisions in mice led to similar results across seven laboratories.
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In science, it is of vital importance that multiple studies corroborate the same result. Researchers therefore need to know all the details of previous experiments in order to implement the procedures as exactly as possible. However, this is becoming a major problem in neuroscience, as animal studies of behavior have proven to be hard to reproduce, and most experiments are never replicated by other laboratories.

Mice are increasingly being used to study the neural mechanisms of decision making, taking advantage of the genetic, imaging and physiological tools that are available for mouse brains. Yet, the lack of standardized behavioral assays is leading to inconsistent results between laboratories. This makes it challenging to carry out large-scale collaborations which have led to massive breakthroughs in other fields such as physics and genetics.

To help make these studies more reproducible, the International Brain Laboratory (a collaborative research group) et al. developed a standardized approach for investigating decision making in mice that incorporates every step of the process; from the training protocol to the software used to analyze the data. In the experiment, mice were shown images with different contrast and had to indicate, using a steering wheel, whether it appeared on their right or left. The mice then received a drop of sugar water for every correction decision. When the image contrast was high, mice could rely on their vision. However, when the image contrast was very low or zero, they needed to consider the information of previous trials and choose the side that had recently appeared more frequently.

This method was used to train 140 mice in seven laboratories from three different countries. The results showed that learning speed was different across mice and laboratories, but once training was complete the mice behaved consistently, relying on visual stimuli or experiences to guide their choices in a similar way.

These results show that complex behaviors in mice can be reproduced across multiple laboratories, providing an unprecedented dataset and open-access tools for studying decision making. This work could serve as a foundation for other groups, paving the way to a more collaborative approach in the field of neuroscience that could help to tackle complex research challenges.