An automated, low-latency environment for studying the neural basis of behavior in freely moving rats

Maciej M. Jankowski, Ana Polterovich, Alex Kazakov, Johannes Niediek, Israel Nelken*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Behavior consists of the interaction between an organism and its environment, and is controlled by the brain. Brain activity varies at sub-second time scales, but behavioral measures are usually coarse (often consisting of only binary trial outcomes). Results: To overcome this mismatch, we developed the Rat Interactive Foraging Facility (RIFF): a programmable interactive arena for freely moving rats with multiple feeding areas, multiple sound sources, high-resolution behavioral tracking, and simultaneous electrophysiological recordings. The paper provides detailed information about the construction of the RIFF and the software used to control it. To illustrate the flexibility of the RIFF, we describe two complex tasks implemented in the RIFF, a foraging task and a sound localization task. Rats quickly learned to obtain rewards in both tasks. Neurons in the auditory cortex as well as neurons in the auditory field in the posterior insula had sound-driven activity during behavior. Remarkably, neurons in both structures also showed sensitivity to non-auditory parameters such as location in the arena and head-to-body angle. Conclusions: The RIFF provides insights into the cognitive capabilities and learning mechanisms of rats and opens the way to a better understanding of how brains control behavior. The ability to do so depends crucially on the combination of wireless electrophysiology and detailed behavioral documentation available in the RIFF.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number172
JournalBMC Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, BioMed Central Ltd., part of Springer Nature.


  • Auditory cortex
  • Automated environment
  • Brain
  • Complex behavior
  • Electrophysiology
  • Freely moving rat
  • Insular cortex


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