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Cell Tissue Res. 2013 Oct;354(1):273-86. doi: 10.1007/s00441-013-1668-9. Epub 2013 Jun 22.

Spatial memory tasks in rodents: what do they model?

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AG Experimentelle Neuropädiatrie, Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, Martinistraße 52, 20246, Hamburg, Germany,


The analysis of spatial learning and memory in rodents is commonly used to investigate the mechanisms underlying certain forms of human cognition and to model their dysfunction in neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases. Proper interpretation of rodent behavior in terms of spatial memory and as a model of human cognitive functions is only possible if various navigation strategies and factors controlling the performance of the animal in a spatial task are taken into consideration. The aim of this review is to describe the experimental approaches that are being used for the study of spatial memory in rats and mice and the way that they can be interpreted in terms of general memory functions. After an introduction to the classification of memory into various categories and respective underlying neuroanatomical substrates, I explain the concept of spatial memory and its measurement in rats and mice by analysis of their navigation strategies. Subsequently, I describe the most common paradigms for spatial memory assessment with specific focus on methodological issues relevant for the correct interpretation of the results in terms of cognitive function. Finally, I present recent advances in the use of spatial memory tasks to investigate episodic-like memory in mice.

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