Similarities and differences between the brain networks underlying allocentric and egocentric spatial learning in rat revealed by cytochrome oxidase histochemistry

Department of Biological Psychology and Health, Autonomous University of Madrid, Ciudad Universitaria de Cantoblanco s/n, 28049 Madrid, Spain. Electronic address: .
Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 3.36). 08/2012; 223:174-82. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2012.07.066
Source: PubMed


The involvement of different brain regions in place- and response-learning was examined using a water cross-maze. Rats were trained to find the goal from the initial arm by turning left at the choice point (egocentric strategy) or by using environmental cues (allocentric strategy). Although different strategies were required, the same maze and learning conditions were used. Using cytochrome oxidase histochemistry as a marker of cellular activity, the function of the 13 diverse cortical and subcortical regions was assessed in rats performing these two tasks. Our results show that allocentric learning depends on the recruitment of a large functional network, which includes the hippocampal CA3, dentate gyrus, medial mammillary nucleus and supramammillary nucleus. Along with the striatum, these last three structures are also related to egocentric spatial learning. The present study provides evidence for the contribution of these regions to spatial navigation and supports a possible functional interaction between the two memory systems, as their structural convergence may facilitate functional cooperation in the behaviours guided by more than one strategy. In summary, it can be argued that spatial learning is based on dynamic functional systems in which the interaction of brain regions is modulated by task requirements.

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    ABSTRACT: We have studied the effect of an environmental enrichment (EE) protocol in adult Wistar rats on the activity in the elevated zero-maze (EZM), performance in the radial-arm water maze (RAWM) and we have also examined the changes in the neuronal metabolic activity of several brain regions related to anxiety response and spatial memory through cytochrome c oxidase histochemistry (COx). Our EE protocol had anxiolytic effect in the EZM; the animals spent more time and made more entries into the open quadrants, they had lower latency to enter into the open quadrant and lower levels of defecation. Also, the EE group showed fewer working memory and reference memory errors, as well as lesser distance travelled in the first days of the spatial training. In relation to the neuronal metabolic activity, EE reduced the COx activity in brain regions related to anxiety response, such as the infralimbic cortex, the paraventricular thalamic and hypothalamic nucleus, the basolateral amygdala, and the ventral hippocampus. Interestingly, there were no significant differences between groups in the dorsal hippocampus, more related to spatial cognition. These results suggest a beneficial effect of EE on spatial memory as a result of reducing anxiety levels and the COx activity in brain regions involved in anxiety response. We also found a differential pattern of activation inside the hippocampus, suggesting that the dorsal hippocampus has a preferential involvement in spatial learning and memory, whereas the ventral hippocampus has a role in anxiety response.
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