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Morris water maze: procedures for assessing spatial and related forms of learning and memory

Abstract

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.

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Figure 1: Percent time in each quadrant of Morris water maze performance on each day of testing in C57BL mice.
Figure 2: Percent time in each quadrant of Morris water maze performance on each day of testing in Sprague–Dawley rats.
Figure 3: Morris water maze acquisition performance in untreated adult Long–Evans rats.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge the support of National Institutes of Health grants DA006733, DA021394, DA014269 and ES007051.

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Vorhees, C., Williams, M. Morris water maze: procedures for assessing spatial and related forms of learning and memory. Nat Protoc 1, 848–858 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nprot.2006.116

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