Sex Difference in Cue Strategy in a Modified Version of the Morris Water Task: Correlations between Brain and Behaviour

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Sex differences in spatial memory function have been reported with mixed results in the literature, with some studies showing male advantages and others showing no differences. When considering estrus cycle in females, results are mixed at to whether high or low circulating estradiol results in an advantage in spatial navigation tasks. Research involving humans and rodents has demonstrated males preferentially employ Euclidean strategies and utilize geometric cues in order to spatially navigate, whereas females employ landmark strategies and cues in order to spatially navigate. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: This study used the water-based snowcone maze in order to assess male and female preference for landmark or geometric cues, with specific emphasis placed on the effects of estrus cycle phase for female rat. Performance and preference for the geometric cue was examined in relation to total hippocampal and hippocampal subregions (CA1&2, CA3 and dentate gyrus) volumes and entorhinal cortex thickness in order to determine the relation between strategy and spatial performance and brain area size. The study revealed that males outperformed females overall during training trials, relied on the geometric cue when the platform was moved and showed significant correlations between entorhinal cortex thickness and spatial memory performance. No gross differences in behavioural performance was observed within females when accounting for cyclicity, and only total hippocampal volume was correlated with performance during the learning trials. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: This study demonstrates the sex-specific use of cues and brain areas in a spatial learning task.

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Keeley, R. J., Tyndall, A. V., Scott, G. A., & Saucier, D. M. (2013). Sex Difference in Cue Strategy in a Modified Version of the Morris Water Task: Correlations between Brain and Behaviour. PLoS ONE, 8(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0069727

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