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Anim Cogn. 2012 Jul;15(4):667-76. doi: 10.1007/s10071-012-0495-9. Epub 2012 Apr 17.

Place and direction learning in a spatial T-maze task by neonatal piglets.

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  • 1Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1207 W. Gregory Ave., Urbana, IL 61801, USA.


Pigs are a valuable animal model for studying neurodevelopment in humans due to similarities in brain structure and growth. The development and validation of behavioral tests to assess learning and memory in neonatal piglets are needed. The present study evaluated the capability of 2-week old piglets to acquire a novel place and direction learning spatial T-maze task. Validity of the task was assessed by the administration of scopolamine, an anti-cholinergic drug that acts on the hippocampus and other related structures, to impair spatial memory. During acquisition, piglets were trained to locate a milk reward in a constant place in space, as well as direction (east or west), in a plus-shaped maze using extra-maze visual cues. Following acquisition, reward location was reversed and piglets were re-tested to assess learning and working memory. The performance of control piglets in the maze improved over time (P < 0.0001), reaching performance criterion (80 % correct) on day 5 of acquisition. Correct choices decreased in the reversal phase (P < 0.0001), but improved over time. In a separate study, piglets were injected daily with either phosphate-buffered saline (PBS; control) or scopolamine prior to testing. Piglets administered scopolamine showed impaired performance in the maze compared to controls (P = 0.03), failing to reach performance criterion after 6 days of acquisition testing. Collectively, these data demonstrate that neonatal piglets can be tested in a spatial T-maze task to assess hippocampal-dependent learning and memory.

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