Cognitive flexibility is the ability to rapidly adapt to a constantly changing environment. It is impaired by aging as well as in various neurological diseases, including dementia and mild cognitive impairment. In rodents, although many behavioral test protocols have been reported to assess learning and memory dysfunction, few protocols address cognitive flexibility. In this study, we developed a novel cognitive flexibility test protocol using touch screen operant system. This test comprises a behavioral sequencing task, in which mice are required to discriminate between the “rewarded” and “never-rewarded” spots and shuttle between the two distantly positioned rewarded spots, and serial reversals, in which the diagonal spatial patterns of rewarded and never-rewarded spots were reversely changed repetitively. Using this test protocol, we demonstrated that dysbiosis treated using streptomycin induces a decline in cognitive flexibility, including perseveration and persistence. The relative abundances of Firmicutes and Bacteroides were lower and higher, respectively, in the streptomycin-treated mice with less cognitive flexibility than in the control mice. This is the first report to directly show that intestinal microbiota affects cognitive flexibility.
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