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Behav Neurosci. 2009 Jun;123(3):504-19. doi: 10.1037/a0015404.

Lesions of the fornix and anterior thalamic nuclei dissociate different aspects of hippocampal-dependent spatial learning: implications for the neural basis of scene learning.

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  • 1School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales, UK.


The present study used 2 different discrimination tasks designed to isolate distinct components of visuospatial learning: structural learning and geometric learning. Structural learning refers to the ability to learn the precise combination of stimulus identity with stimulus location. Rats with anterior thalamic lesions and fornix lesions were unimpaired on a configural learning task in which the rats learned 3 concurrent mirror-image discriminations (structural learning). Indeed, both lesions led to facilitated learning. In contrast, anterior thalamic lesions impaired the geometric discrimination (e.g., swim to the corner with the short wall to the right of the long wall). Finally, both the fornix and anterior thalamic lesions severely impaired T-maze alternation, a task that taxes an array of spatial strategies including allocentric learning. This pattern of dissociations and double dissociations highlights how distinct classes of spatial learning rely on different systems, even though they may converge on the hippocampus. Consequently, the findings suggest that structural learning is heavily dependent on cortico-hippocampal interactions. In contrast, subcortical inputs (such as those from the anterior thalamus) contribute to geometric learning.

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