Abstract: Spontaneous recognition memory tasks are widely used to assess cognitive function in rodents and have become commonplace in the characterization of rodent models of neurodegenerative, neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. Leveraging an animal’s innate preference for novelty, these tasks use object exploration to capture the what, where and when components of recognition memory. Choosing and optimizing objects is a key feature when designing recognition memory tasks. Although the range of objects used in these tasks varies extensively across studies, object features can bias exploration, influence task difficulty and alter brain circuit recruitment. Here, we discuss the advantages of using 3D printed objects in rodent spontaneous recognition memory tasks. We provide strategies for optimizing their design and usage, and offer a repository of tested, open-source designs for use with commonly used rodent species. The easy accessibility, low-cost, renewability and flexibility of 3D printed open-source designs make this approach an important step toward improving rigor and reproducibility in rodent spontaneous recognition memory tasks. Significance statement Spontaneous recognition memory tasks are becoming standard in neuroscience labs studying cognitive function and using preclinical models of neurodegenerative, neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. Yet, variability in object selection across labs hinders cross-lab comparisons and consensus across the field. Here we discuss the advantages of, and optimization strategies for, the use of 3D-printed objects in rodent spontaneous recognition memory tasks, with the goal of increasing accessibility, reproducibility and rigor when running these tasks. We also share tested, open-source object designs for rats and mice with the broader scientific community.
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