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The Raccoon Project: Exploring Optimal Neural Functions in a Novel Model Species
This study explored the different determinants of optimal neural functions in raccoons as a novel scientific model; specifically, this investigation this included the study of behavioral and cognitive flexibility, hormonal changes, and brain markers such as neural counts. Behavioral testing was conducted at the USDA National Wildlife Research Center – Predator Research Facility in Ft. Collins, CO in collaboration with Dr. Sarah Benson-Amram’s research team at the University of Wyoming. The behavioral assessments allowed for the classification of the animals into a solvers group or a non-solvers group. Fecal samples were used to determine hormonal markers of resilience such as DHEA, Corticosterone (CORT) and the DHEA/CORT ratio. Brain cell counts using DAPI and NeuN staining were determined through the use of the isotropic fractionation method. In general, the findings suggested some markers of emotional resilience in Raccoons through the study of their hormonal changes. In addition, we were able to learn more about the brain structure and cell counts of these novel model species. In sum, this study explored the connections between cognitive flexibility and urban adaptation in terms of cognitive flexibility and immunohistochemical indicators in the brains of raccoons.