The Morris water maze (MWM) is a test of spatial learning for rodents that relies on distal cues to navigate from start locations around the perimeter of an open swimming arena to locate a submerged escape platform. Spatial learning is assessed across repeated trials and reference memory is determined by preference for the platform area when the platform is absent. Reversal and shift trials enhance the detection of spatial impairments. Trial-dependent, latent and discrimination learning can be assessed using modifications of the basic protocol. Search-to-platform area determines the degree of reliance on spatial versus non-spatial strategies. Cued trials determine whether performance factors that are unrelated to place learning are present. Escape from water is relatively immune from activity or body mass differences, making it ideal for many experimental models. The MWM has proven to be a robust and reliable test that is strongly correlated with hippocampal synaptic plasticity and NMDA receptor function. We present protocols for performing variants of the MWM test, from which results can be obtained from individual animals in as few as 6 days.
Maneuvering safely through the environment is central to survival of almost all species. The ability to do this depends on learning and remembering locations. This capacity is encoded in the brain by two systems: one using cues outside the organism (distal cues), allocentric navigation, and one using self-movement, internal cues and nearby proximal cues, egocentric navigation. Allocentric navigation involves the hippocampus, entorhinal cortex, and surrounding structures; in humans this system encodes allocentric, semantic, and episodic memory. This form of memory is assessed in laboratory animals in many ways, but the dominant form of assessment is the Morris water maze (MWM). Egocentric navigation involves the dorsal striatum and connected structures; in humans this system encodes routes and integrated paths and, when overlearned, becomes procedural memory. In this article, several allocentric assessment methods for rodents are reviewed and compared with the MWM. MWM advantages (little training required, no food deprivation, ease of testing, rapid and reliable learning, insensitivity to differences in body weight and appetite, absence of nonperformers, control methods for proximal cue learning, and performance effects) and disadvantages (concern about stress, perhaps not as sensitive for working memory) are discussed. Evidence-based design improvements and testing methods are reviewed for both rats and mice. Experimental factors that apply generally to spatial navigation and to MWM specifically are considered. It is concluded that, on balance, the MWM has more advantages than disadvantages and compares favorably with other allocentric navigation tasks.
Hypoxia is a critical factor for cell death or survival in ischemic stroke, but the pathological consequences of combined ischemia-hypoxia are not fully understood. Here we examine this issue using a modified Levine/Vannucci procedure in adult mice that consists of unilateral common carotid artery occlusion and hypoxia with tightly regulated body temperature. At the cellular level, ischemia-hypoxia produced proinflammatory cytokines and simultaneously activated both prosurvival (eg, synthesis of heat shock 70 protein, phosphorylation of ERK and AKT) and proapoptosis signaling pathways (eg, release of cytochrome c and AIF from mitochondria, cleavage of caspase-9 and -8). However, caspase-3 was not activated, and very few cells completed the apoptosis process. Instead, many damaged neurons showed features of autophagic/lysosomal cell death. At the tissue level, ischemia-hypoxia caused persistent cerebral perfusion deficits even after release of the carotid artery occlusion. These changes were associated with both platelet deposition and fibrin accumulation within the cerebral circulation and would be expected to contribute to infarction. Complementary studies in fibrinogen-deficient mice revealed that the absence of fibrin and/or secondary fibrin-mediated inflammatory processes significantly attenuated brain damage. Together, these results suggest that ischemia-hypoxia is a powerful stimulus for spontaneous coagulation leading to reperfusion deficits and autophagic/lysosomal cell death in brain.
Several disorders have been associated with mutations in Na,K-ATPase ␣ isoforms (rapid-onset dystonia parkinsonism, familial hemiplegic migraine type-2), as well as reduction in Na,K-ATPase content (depression and Alzheimer's disease), thereby raising the issue of whether haploinsufficiency or altered enzymatic function contribute to disease etiology. Three isoforms are expressed in the brain: the ␣1 isoform is found in many cell types, the ␣2 isoform is predominantly expressed in astrocytes, and the ␣3 isoform is exclusively expressed in neurons. Here we show that mice heterozygous for the ␣2 isoform display increased anxiety-related behavior, reduced locomotor activity, and impaired spatial learning in the Morris water maze. Mice heterozygous for the ␣3 isoform displayed spatial learning and memory deficits unrelated to differences in cued learning in the Morris maze, increased locomotor activity, an increased locomotor response to methamphetamine, and a 40% reduction in hippocampal NMDA receptor expression. In contrast, heterozygous ␣1 isoform mice showed increased locomotor response to methamphetamine and increased basal and stimulated corticosterone in plasma. The learning and memory deficits observed in the ␣2 and ␣3 heterozygous mice reveal the Na,K-ATPase to be an important factor in the functioning of pathways associated with spatial learning. The neurobehavioral changes seen in heterozygous mice suggest that these mouse models may be useful in future investigations of the associated human CNS disorders.
Mutations in the creatine (Cr) transporter (CrT; Slc6a8) gene lead to absence of brain Cr and intellectual disabilities, loss of speech, and behavioral abnormalities. To date, no mouse model of CrT deficiency exists in which to understand and develop treatments for this condition. The purpose of this study was to generate a mouse model of human CrT deficiency. We created mice with exons 2–4 of Slc6a8 flanked by loxP sites and crossed these to Cre:CMV mice to create a line of ubiquitous CrT knockout expressing mice. Mice were tested for learning and memory deficits and assayed for Cr and neurotransmitter levels. Male CrT−/y (affected) mice lack Cr in the brain and muscle with significant reductions of Cr in other tissues including heart and testes. CrT−/y mice showed increased path length during acquisition and reversal learning in the Morris water maze. During probe trials, CrT−/y mice showed increased average distance from the platform site. CrT−/y mice showed reduced novel object recognition and conditioned fear memory compared to CrT+/y. CrT−/y mice had increased serotonin and 5-hydroxyindole acetic acid in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Ubiquitous CrT knockout mice have learning and memory deficits resembling human CrT deficiency and this model should be useful in understanding this disorder.
In most cells, the ubiquitously expressed Na+/H+exchanger isoform 1 (NHE1) is thought to be a primary regulator of pH homeostasis, cell volume regulation, and the proliferative response to growth factor stimulation. To study the function of NHE1 during embryogenesis when these cellular processes are very active, we targeted the Nhe1 gene by replacing the sequence encoding transmembrane domains 6 and 7 with the neomycin resistance gene. NHE activity assays on isolated acinar cells indicated that the targeted allele is functionally null. Although the absence of NHE1 is compatible with embryogenesis, Nhe1 homozygous mutants (−/−) exhibit a decreased rate of postnatal growth that is first evident at 2 wk of age. At this time, Nhe1 −/− animals also begin to exhibit ataxia and epileptic-like seizures. Approximately 67% of the −/− mutants die before weaning. Postmortem examinations frequently revealed an accumulation of a waxy particulate material inside the ears, around the eyes and chin, and on the ventral surface of the paws. Histological analysis of adult tissues revealed a thickening of the lamina propria and a slightly atrophic glandular mucosa in the stomach.
Prolonged isoflurane exposure in neonatal mice led to increased immediate brain cell degeneration, however, no significant reductions in adult neuronal density or deficits in spontaneous locomotion, spatial learning, or memory function were observed.
Use of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA; ecstasy) has increased dramatically in recent years, yet little is known about its effects on the developing brain. Neonatal rats were administered MDMA on days 1-10 or 11-20 (analogous to early and late human third trimester brain development). MDMA exposure had no effect on survival but did affect body weight gain during treatment. After treatment, body weight largely recovered to 90-95% of controls. MDMA exposure on days 11-20 resulted in dose-related impairments of sequential learning and spatial learning and memory, whereas neonatal rats exposed on days 1-10 showed almost no effects. At neither stage of exposure did MDMA-treated offspring show effects on swimming ability or cued learning. Brain region-specific dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine changes were small and were not correlated to learning changes. These findings suggest that MDMA may pose a previously unrecognized risk to the developing brain by inducing long-term deleterious effects on learning and memory.
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