Assessment of Spatial Memory Using the Radial Arm Maze and Morris Water Maze

Gary L. Wenk1

1 University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Neuroscience
Unit Number:  Unit 8.5A
DOI:  10.1002/0471142301.ns0805as26
Online Posting Date:  May, 2004
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Behavioral tasks must be evaluated in terms of the cognitive functions they require in order to be performed. All of the tasks described in this chapter can be used with each of four experimental manipulations: stimulation of a single brain region by drugs or small electrical current, impairment of normal function by production of a lesion or administration of appropriate pharmacological agents, recording of brain activity during the performance of a specific behavioral task, or behavioral phenotyping of transgenic and knockout mice for genes expressed in specific brain regions. This unit describes protocols for the radial arm maze task and the water maze task, both of which require intact spatial memory abilities.

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Table of Contents

  • Basic Protocol 1: Use of Radial Arm Maze Task to Test Basic Working Memory
  • Alternate Protocol 1: Use of Radial Arm Maze Task to Test Working Versus Reference Memory
  • Basic Protocol 2: Use of Morris Water Maze Task to Test Spatial Memory
  • Alternate Protocol 2: Use of Water Maze Task for Spatial Probe Trial
  • Alternate Protocol 3: Use of Water Maze Task to Test Working Memory
  • Commentary
  • Literature Cited
  • Figures
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Basic Protocol 1: Use of Radial Arm Maze Task to Test Basic Working Memory

  • Rats
  • Food reward (e.g., 10‐mg pellet of chow or sweetened breakfast cereal; see Critical Parameters)
  • Radial arm maze (Fig. ), handmade or fully automated (Coulbourn Instruments or Columbus Instruments)

Alternate Protocol 1: Use of Radial Arm Maze Task to Test Working Versus Reference Memory

  • Rats
  • Water maze apparatus
  • Tracking system and software (Columbus Instruments, HVS Image, San Diego Instruments, or CPL Systems)
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Literature Cited

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   Brandeis, R., Brandys, Y., and Yehuda, S. 1989. The use of the Morris water maze in the study of memory and learning. Int. J. Neurosci. 48:29‐69.
   Brandeis, R., Sapir, M., Kapon, Y., and Borelli, G. 1991. Improvement of cognitive function by MAO‐B inhibitor L‐deprenyl in aged rats. Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. 39:297‐304.
   Buresova, O. and Skopkova, J. 1982. Vasopressin analogues and spatial working memory in the 24‐arm radial maze. Peptides 3:725‐727.
   Crawley, J.N., Belknap, J.K., Collins, A., Crabbe, J.C., Frankel, W., Henderson, N., Hitzemann, R.J., Maxson, S.C., Miner, L.L., Silva, A.J., Wehner, J.M. Wynshaw‐Boris, A., and Paylor, R. 1997. Behavioral phenotypes of inbred mouse strains: Implications and recommendations for molecular studies. Psychopharmacology 132:107‐124.
   Devenport, L.D., Merriman, V.J., and Devenport, J.A. 1983. Effects of ethanol on enforced spatial variability in the 8‐arm radial maze. Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. 18:55‐59.
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   McNaughton, N. and Morris, R.G. 1987. Chlordiazepoxide, an anxiolytic benzodiazepine, impairs place navigation in rats. Behav. Brain Res. 24:39‐46.
   Morris, R.G.M. 1981. Spatial localisation does not depend on the presence of local cues. Learn. Motiv. 12:239‐260.
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   Stevens, R. 1981. Scopolamine impairs spatial maze performance in rats. Physiol. & Behav. 27:385‐386.
   Sutherland, R.J., Whishaw, I.Q., and Regehr, J.C. 1982. Cholinergic receptor blockade impairs spatial localization by use of distal cues in the rat. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 96:563‐573.
   Tolman, E.C., Ritchie, F.B., and Kalish, D. 1946. Studies in spatial learning. I. Orientation and the short cut. J. Exp. Psychol. 36:13‐24.
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   Walsh, T.J., Miller, D.B., and Dyer, R.S. 1982. Trimethyltin, a selective limbic system neurotoxicant, impairs radial arm maze performance. Neurobehav. Toxicol. Teratol. 4:177‐183.
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Key References
   Brandeis et al., 1989. See above.
  Provides a general review of the many ways this water maze task has been used to study brain function and the general theoretical principles that underlie its use.
   Olton, D.S. 1985. The radial arm maze as a tool in behavioral pharmacology. Physiol. & Behav. 40:793‐797.
  Reviews the many ways in which the radial arm maze task has been and can be used to investigate the effects of lesions or drugs upon the function of specific brain regions.
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