Toward Standardized Guidelines for Investigating Neural Circuit Control of Behavior in Animal Research.


With the advent of tools for recording and manipulating activity with high spatiotemporal resolution in defined neural circuits in behaving animals, behavioral neuroscience is now tasked with establishing field-wide standards for implementing and interpreting these powerful approaches. Theoretical frameworks for what constitute proof of fundamental neurobiological principles is an ongoing and frequently debated topic. On the other hand, standardizing interpretation of individual experimental findings to avoid spurious conclusions in practice has received less attention. Even within subfields, similar assays are often used to support widely disparate conclusions which in part has contributed to a slew of studies claiming highly specified functions for cell types and circuits which are often in direct disagreement with one another. In this opinion piece, we discuss common pitfalls in design and interpretation of approaches for recording or manipulating neural activity in animal models of motivated behavior. We emphasize the importance of integrating findings across multiple behavioral assays concomitant with tempered inference regarding specialized neuronal functions as a standardized starting point for parsing circuit control of behavior. Our aim is to stimulate an open and accessible discourse in the literature to address issues of continuity across behavioral neurosciences.