Open Access Research

Performance of conventional pigs and Göttingen miniature pigs in a spatial holeboard task: effects of the putative muscarinic cognition impairer Biperiden

Elise Gieling12*, Welmoed Wehkamp3, Remco Willigenburg3, Rebecca E Nordquist12, Niels-Christian Ganderup4 and Franz Josef van der Staay12

Author Affiliations

1 Emotion & Cognition Group, Department of Farm Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University Utrecht, P.O. Box 80151, Utrecht, The Netherlands

2 Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience, Utrecht University, Universiteitsweg 100, Utrecht, 3584 CG, The Netherlands

3 HAS Den Bosch, University of Applied Sciences, Postbus 90108, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands

4 Ellegaard Göttingen Minipigs A/S, Soroe Landevej 302, Dalmose, DK-4261, Denmark

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Behavioral and Brain Functions 2013, 9:4  doi:10.1186/1744-9081-9-4

Published: 10 January 2013



The pig is emerging as a model species that bridges the gap between rodents and humans in research. In particular, the miniature pig (referred to hereafter as the minipig) is increasingly being used as non-rodent species in pharmacological and toxicological studies. However, there is as yet a lack of validated behavioral tests for pigs, although there is evidence that the spatial holeboard task can be used to assess the working and reference memory of pigs. In the present study, we compared the learning performance of commercial pigs and Göttingen minipigs in a holeboard task.


Biperiden, a muscarinic M1 receptor blocker, is used to induce impairments in cognitive function in animal research. The two groups of pigs were treated orally with increasing doses of biperiden (0.05 – 20 after they had reached asymptotic performance in the holeboard task.


Both the conventional pigs and the Göttingen minipigs learned the holeboard task, reaching nearly errorless asymptotic working and reference memory performance within approximately 100 acquisition trials. Biperiden treatment affected reference, but not working, memory, increasing trial duration and the latency to first hole visit at doses ≥ 5


Both pig breeds learned the holeboard task and had a comparable performance. Biperiden had only a minor effect on holeboard performance overall, and mainly on reference memory performance. The effectiveness needs to be evaluated further before definitive conclusions can be drawn about the ability of this potential cognition impairer in pigs.

Working memory; Reference memory; Animal model; Holeboard task; Spatial learning task; Biperiden