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Research finds part of rats’ brains essential to play
Although rats do not laugh as humans do, they squeak at an inaudible, high-pitched tone.

Brain activity revealed strong responses in the PAG.

A study has identified the part of a rat’s brain which is linked to laughter and playfulness.

The research required scientists to simulate a play environment for the rats in the laboratory, before measuring the rats’ squeaks and brain activity during play.

To achieve this, the scientists first got the rats comfortable by allowing them a few days to become accustomed to their environment, which they could roam freely.

Once the rats had become comfortable, researchers played games of ‘chase the hand’, as well as tickling their bellies and backs.

Although rats do not laugh as humans do, they squeak at an inaudible, high-pitched tone which the researchers monitored to ensure they were having fun.

The rats’ brain activity revealed strong neural responses in the lateral column of the periaqueductal gray (PAG). If the PAG was inhibited, or the rats were in an unfamiliar and anxiety-inducing environment, they stopped laughing and PAG activity was decreased.

The PAG is found in the midbrain, and is acknowledged to control vocalisations and the fight-or-flight response. Play-fighting can also invoke the fight-or-flight response, which may explain why the PAG is involved.

Senior author Michael Brecht, a neuroscientist at Humboldt University of Berlin, said: “We know that vocalisations such as laughter are very important in play, which supported the idea that there is some sort of organisation signal in the brain regulating this behaviour,

“For example, children check for laughter when they play-fight with each other. If their playmate isn’t laughing anymore, they stop fighting.”

The researchers plan on seeing if they can observe similar activity in the lateral column of other animals, as well as seeing how different play habits affect the way the PAG develops in young rats.

Dr Brecht said: “A lot of people think that play is childish or not a very decisive behaviour, but play is underrated,

“In my perception of play, it’s a self-training behaviour. Usually, brains serve for controlling behaviours. Play behaviours, however, seem to serve for growing brains.”

The full study can be found in the Neuron journal.

Image (C) Shutterstock

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VMG president joins House of Lords

News Story 1
 Miles Russell, president of the Veterinary Management Group (VMG), has been elected to the House of Lords as a crossbench hereditary peer.

He will join Lord Trees as a representative of the veterinary sector in the second chamber of the UK parliament.

Lord Russell said: "Those of us working in the animal health and veterinary sectors are only too aware of the importance of the work we do and the challenges we face.

"I will use my platform in the House of Lords to increase understanding of our sectors and to promote positive change." 

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News Shorts
Sixth case of bluetongue confirmed

A sixth case of bluetongue virus serotype 3 has been confirmed in the UK.

The case was detected in an animal on a premises linked to one of the farms within the Temporary Control Zone (TCZ) currently in place near Canterbury, Kent.

In response, the Animal and Plant Health Agency has extended the TCZ. Investigations into the spread of the disease are ongoing.

The cases in Kent come at a time when a new strain of the virus has spread rapidly across farms in the Netherlands. Both the Government and the British Veterinary Association have urged livestock keepers to remain vigilant.

Bluetongue is a notifiable disease and suspected cases must be reported immediately on 03000 200 301 in England or 03003 038 268 in Wales. In Scotland, possible cases should be reported to the local field services office.