Young Domestic Pigs (Sus scrofa) Can Perform Pavlovian Eyeblink Conditioning

Henk Jan Boele, Sangyun Joung, Joanne E. Fil, Austin T. Mudd, Stephen A. Fleming, Sebastiaan K.E. Koekkoek, Ryan N. Dilger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Pigs have been an increasingly popular preclinical model in nutritional neuroscience, as their anatomy, physiology, and nutrition requirements are highly comparable to those of humans. Eyeblink conditioning is one of the most well-validated behavioral paradigms in neuroscience to study underlying mechanisms of learning and memory formation in the cerebellum. Eyeblink conditioning has been performed in many species but has never been done on young pigs. Therefore, our aim here was to develop and validate an eyeblink conditioning paradigm in young pigs. Method: Eighteen intact male pigs were artificially reared from postnatal day 2–30. The eyeblink conditioning setup consisted of a sound-damping box with a hammock that pigs were placed in, which allowed the pig to remain comfortable yet maintain a typical range of head motion. In a delay conditioning paradigm, the conditional stimulus (CS) was a 550 ms blue light-emitting diode (LED), the unconditional stimulus (US) was a 50 ms eye air-puff, the CS-US interval was 500 ms. Starting at postnatal day 14, pigs were habituated for 5 days to the eyeblink conditioning setup, followed by 5 daily sessions of acquisition training (40 paired CS-US trials each day). Results: The group-averaged amplitude of conditioned eyelid responses gradually increased over the course of the 5 days of training, indicating that pigs learned to make the association between the LED light CS and the air-puff US. A similar increase was found for the conditioned response (CR) probability: the group-averaged CR probability on session 1 was about 12% and reached a CR probability of 55% on day 5. The latency to CR peak time lacked a temporal preference in the first session but clearly showed preference from the moment that animals started to show more CRs in session 2 and onwards whereby the eyelid was maximally closed exactly at the moment that the US would be delivered. Conclusion: We concluded that 3-week-old pigs have the capability of performing in a cerebellar classical conditioning task, demonstrating for the first time that eyeblink conditioning in young pigs has the potential to be a valuable behavioral tool to measure neurodevelopment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number690019
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
StatePublished - Jun 29 2021


  • associative learning
  • cerebellar learning
  • eyeblink conditioning
  • nutrition
  • pig

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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