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Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2008 Oct;90(3):495-503. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2008.07.015. Epub 2008 Aug 26.

Chronic stress modulates the use of spatial and stimulus-response learning strategies in mice and man.

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Division of Clinical Physiology, Institute of Psychobiology, University of Trier, Germany.


Acute stress modulates multiple memory systems in favor of caudate nucleus-dependent stimulus-response and at the expense of hippocampus-dependent spatial learning and memory. We examined in mice and humans whether chronic stress has similar consequences. Male C57BL/6J mice that had been repeatedly exposed to rats ("rat stress") used in a circular hole board task significantly more often a stimulus-response strategy (33%) than control mice (0%). While velocity was increased, differences in latency to exit hole, distance moved or number of holes visited were not observed. Increased velocity and performance during retention trials one day later indicates altered emotionality and motivation to explore in rat stressed mice. Forty healthy young men and women were split into "high chronic stress" and "low chronic stress" groups based on their answers in a chronic stress questionnaire ("Trier Inventory of Chronic Stress"-TICS) and trained in a 2D task. A test trial immediately after training revealed that participants of the "high chronic stress" group used the S-R strategy significantly more often (94%) than participants of the "low chronic stress" group (52%). Verbal self-reports confirmed the strategy derived from participants' choice in the test trial. Learning performance was unaffected by the chronic stress level. We conclude that one consequence of chronic stress is the shift to more rigid stimulus-response learning, that is accompanied by changes in motivational factors in mice.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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