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Behav Brain Res. 2002 Apr 1;131(1-2):185-92.

Rats can track odors, other rats, and themselves: implications for the study of spatial behavior.

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Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge, 4401 University Drive, Alberta, T1K 3M4, Lethbridge, Canada.


In order to demonstrate that rats solve dead reckoning (path integration) tasks in which they return to a starting location using self-movement (idiothetic) cues, it is necessary to remove external (allothetic) cues. Odor cues, especially those generated by a rat on a single passage, are difficult to control and they can potentially serve as a cue to guide a homeward trip. Because it is presently unknown whether rats can track the cues that they themselves leave, as opposed to the odor trails left by other rats, we investigated this question in the present study. A tracking task was used in which rats: (1) followed a scented string from a refuge to obtain a food pellet located on a large circular table; (2) followed odors left on the table; (3) followed odors left by the passage of another rat; or (4) followed odors left by themselves. Groups of rats were presented with strings scented with either the rat's own odor (Group Own), a conspecific's odor (Group Other), or another scent, vanilla (Group Vanilla). After training, a series of discrimination tests were given to determine the nature of the stimulus that controls scent tracking. The results indicated that Own, Other, and Vanilla groups were equally proficient in discriminating and following their respective odors. The rats were also able to follow odor trails on the table surface as well as a trail left by the single passage of another rat or their own passage. This is the first study to demonstrate that rats can discriminate between conspecific odors and their own odor left during a single passage. The results are discussed in relation to their implications for experimental methodology and olfactory contributions to spatial navigation in general and dead reckoning in particular.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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