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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2004 Sep;28(5):497-505.

The value of spontaneous alternation behavior (SAB) as a test of retention in pharmacological investigations of memory.

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Department of Psychology, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand.


Because of its reliance on memory, the tendency for rats, mice and other animals to alternate successive choices of T- or Y-maze arms has assumed considerable popularity in pharmacological studies of spatial memory as a quick and simple measure of retention that avoids the need for extensive training and the use of conventional reinforcers. Two forms of this tendency have been utilized, namely two-trial and continuous spontaneous alternation behavior (SAB). However, as the behavior can also reflect drug-related changes in sensory/attentional, motivational and performance processes, SAB should not be unquestionably accepted as a measure of memory alone. While assessments of post-acquisition drug effects on longer term memory may be possible through the appropriate timing of drug administration, this is more problematic if SAB is used as a measure of shorter term memory. Even though SAB can be a useful index of responsiveness to novelty, its value as a measure of retention is less certain. In this latter respect, a possible alternative to SAB testing might be the recently developed form of the related procedure, responsiveness to change.

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