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Learn Mem. 2004 Mar-Apr;11(2):196-204.

Contextual and serial discriminations: a new learning paradigm to assess simultaneously the effects of acute stress on retrieval of flexible or stable information in mice.

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Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives, Unite Mixte de Recherche Centre National Recherche Scientifique 5601, Bâtiment de Biologie Animale, 33405 Talence Cedex, France.


The present study was aimed at simultaneously determining on the same subject, the effects of stress on retrieval of flexible (contextual or temporal) or stable (spatial) information. Three behavioral paradigms carried out in a four-hole board were designed as follows: (1) Simple Discrimination (SD), in which mice learned a single discrimination; (2) Contextual and Serial Discriminations (CSD), in which mice learned two successive discriminations on two different internal contexts; (3) Spatial Serial Discriminations (SSD), in which mice learned two successive discriminations on an identical internal context. The stressor (three inescapable electric footshocks) was delivered 5 min before retention, occurring 5 min or 24 h after acquisition. Results showed that this stressor increased plasmatic corticosterone levels and fear reactivity in an elevated-plus-maze, as compared with nonstressed mice. The stressor reversed the normal pattern of retrieval observed in nonstressed controls in the CSD task, this effect being context dependent, as it was not observed in the SSD task. Overall, our study shows that stress affected the retrieval of flexible and old information, but spared the retrieval of stable or recent ones. Therefore, these behavioral paradigms allow us to study simultaneously, on the same animal, the effects of stress on distinct forms of memory retrieval.

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