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Horm Behav. 2000 Feb;37(1):86-95.

Spatial working memory and hippocampal size across pregnancy in rats.

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Department of Psychology, The University of British Columbia, 2136 West Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z4, Canada.


The present experiments investigated the effects of pregnancy on performance in the Morris water maze and on hippocampal volume. In the first study, pregnant rats (in between the first and second trimester) outperformed nonpregnant rats on the Morris water maze on 1 day of testing. In the second study, rats were tested in a working memory variation of the maze in which the spatial location of the platform varied. Pregnant females traveled shorter distances than nonpregnant females during the first two trimesters, but performed worse than nonpregnant females during the third trimester. Latency measures showed a similar profile. Group differences in performance were not related to changes in swim speed. However, changes in performance in pregnant females may be related to estrogen, progesterone, and/or corticosterone levels during pregnancy, with low levels of estradiol and high levels of progesterone being associated with better performance. There were no significant differences between pregnant and nonpregnant animals on any of the brain measures, although pregnant animals tended to have a smaller hippocampus than nonpregnant animals. These results indicate that pregnancy can affect performance, possibly related to the hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy.

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