A touchscreen motivation assessment evaluated in Huntington’s disease patients and R6/1 model mice

Heath, Christopher; O'Callaghan, Claire; Mason, Sarah L; Phillips, Benjamin U; Saksida, Lisa M; Robbins, Trevor W; Barker, Roger A; Bussey, Timothy J and Sahakian, Barbara J (2019). A touchscreen motivation assessment evaluated in Huntington’s disease patients and R6/1 model mice. Frontiers in Neurology, 10, article no. 858.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2019.00858


Apathy is pervasive across many neuropsychiatric disorders but is poorly characterised mechanistically, so targeted therapeutic interventions remain elusive. A key impediment has been the lack of validated assessment tools to facilitate translation of promising findings between preclinical disease models and patients.

Apathy is a common symptom in Huntington’s disease. Due to its established genetic basis and the availability of defined animal models, this disease offers a robust translational framework for linking motivated behaviour with underlying neurobiology and an ideal context in which to evaluate a quantitative, translational apathy assessment method. In this study we therefore aimed to demonstrate the validity of using touchscreen-delivered progressive ratio tasks to mirror apathy assessment in Huntington’s disease patients and a representative mouse model.

To do this we evaluated Huntington’s disease patients (n=23) and age-matched healthy controls (n=20), and male R6/1 mice (n=23) and wildtype controls (n=29) for apathy-like behaviour using touchscreen-delivered progressive ratio tasks. The primary outcome measure of the assessment was breakpoint, defined as the highest number of touchscreen responses emitted before task engagement ceased. Patients and R6/1 mice were both found to exhibit significantly reduced breakpoints relative to their respective control groups, consistent with apathy-like behaviour. This performance was also not associated with motoric differences in either species.

These data demonstrate the utility of touchscreen-delivered progressive ratio tasks in detecting clinically relevant motivational deficits in Huntington’s disease. This approach may offer a platform from which clinically relevant mechanistic insights concerning motivation symptoms can be derived and provide an effective route for translation of promising preclinical findings into viable therapeutic interventions.

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