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Prog Neurobiol. 1998 Feb;54(3):289-311.

Recognition memory in rats--I. Concepts and classification.

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  • 1Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Clinical Institute, Munich, Germany.


Recognition is the process by which a subject is aware that a stimulus has been previously experienced. It requires that the characteristics of events are perceived, discriminated, identified and then compared (matched) against a memory of the characteristics of previously experienced events. Understanding recognition memory, its underlying neuronal mechanisms, its dysfunction and alleviation of the latter by putative cognition enhancing drugs is a major research target and has triggered a wealth of animal studies. One of the most widely used animals for this purpose is the rat, and it is the rat's recognition memory which is the focus of this review. In this first part, concepts of recognition memory, stages of mnemonic processing and paradigms for the measurement of the rat's recognition memory will be discussed. In two subsequent articles (parts II and III) we will focus on the neuronal mechanisms underlying recognition memory in rats. Three major points arise from the comparison of paradigms that have in the past been used to assess recognition memory in rats. First, it should be realized that some tasks which, at face value, can all be considered to measure recognition memory in rats, may not assess recognition memory at all but may, for example, be based on recall rather than recognition. Second, it is evident that different types of recognition memory can be distinguished and that tasks differ in the type of recognition memory taxed. Some paradigms, for example, measure familiarity, whereas others assess recency. Furthermore, paradigms differ as to whether spatial stimuli or items are employed. Third, different processes, ranging from stimulus-response learning to the formation of concepts, may be involved to varying extent in different tasks. These are important considerations and question the predictive validity of the results obtained from studies examining, for example, the effects of putative cognition enhancing drugs.

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