Rat spatial memory tasks adapted for humans: characterization in subjects with intact brain and subjects with selective medial temporal lobe thermal lesions

V D Bohbot, R Jech, E Růzicka, L Nadel, M Kalina, K Stepánková, J Bures
Physiological Research 2002, 51 Suppl 1: S49-65
In the present paper we describe five tests, 3 of which were designed to be similar to tasks used with rodents. Results obtained from control subjects, patients with selective thermo-coagulation lesions to the medial temporal lobe and results from non-human primates and rodents are discussed. The tests involve memory for spatial locations acquired by moving around in a room, memory for objects subjects interacted with, or memory for objects and their locations. Two of the spatial memory tasks were designed specifically as analogs of the Morris water task and the 8-arm radial-maze tasks used with rats. The Morris water task was modeled by hiding a sensor under the carpet of a room (Invisible Sensor Task). Subjects had to learn its location by using an array of visual cues available in the room. A path integration task was developed in order to study the non-visual acquisition of a cognitive representation of the spatial location of objects. In the non-visual spatial memory task, we blindfolded subjects and led them to a room where they had to find 3 objects and remember their locations. We designed an object location task by placing 4 objects in a room that subjects observed for later recall of their locations. A recognition task, and a novelty detection task were given subsequent to the recall task. An 8-arm radial-maze was recreated by placing stands at equal distance from each other around the room, and asking subjects to visit each stand once, from a central point. A non-spatial working memory task was designed to be the non-spatial equivalent of the radial maze. Search paths recorded on the first trial of the Invisible Sensor Task, when subjects search for the target by trial and error are reported. An analysis of the search paths revealed that patients with lesions to the right or left hippocampus or parahippocampal cortex employed the same type of search strategies as normal controls did, showing similarities and differences to the search behavior recorded in rats. Interestingly, patients with lesions that included the right parahippocampal cortex were impaired relative to patients with lesions to the right hippocampus that spared the parahippocampal cortex, when recall of the sensor was tested after a 30 min delay (Bohbot et al. 1998). No differences were obtained between control subjects and patients with selective thermal lesions to the medial temporal lobe, when tested on the radial-maze, the non-spatial analogue to the radial-maze and the path integration tasks. Differences in methodological procedures, learning strategies and lesion location could account for some of the discrepant results between humans and non-human species. Patients with lesions to the right hippocampus, irrespective of whether the right parahippocampal cortex was spared or damaged, had difficulties remembering the particular configuration and identity of objects in the novelty detection of the object location task. This supports the role of the human right hippocampus for spatial memory, in this case, involving memory for the location of elements in the room; learning known to require the hippocampus in the rat.

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