Rats, like other crepuscular animals, have excellent auditory capacities and they discriminate well between different sounds [Heffner HE, Heffner RS, Hearing in two cricetid rodents: wood rats (Neotoma floridana) and grasshopper mouse (Onychomys leucogaster). J Comp Psychol 1985;99(3):275-88]. However, most experimental literature concerning spatial orientation almost exclusively emphasizes the use of visual landmarks [Cressant A, Muller RU, Poucet B. Failure of centrally placed objects to control the firing fields of hippocampal place cells. J Neurosci 1997;17(7):2531-42; and Goodridge JP, Taube JS. Preferential use of the landmark navigational system by head direction cells in rats. Behav Neurosci 1995;109(1):49-61]. To address the important issue of whether rats are able to achieve a place navigation task relative to auditory beacons, we designed a place learning task in the water maze. We controlled cue availability by conducting the experiment in total darkness. Three auditory cues did not allow place navigation whereas three visual cues in the same positions did support place navigation. One auditory beacon directly associated with the goal location did not support taxon navigation (a beacon strategy allowing the animal to find the goal just by swimming toward the cue). Replacing the auditory beacons by one single visual beacon did support taxon navigation. A multimodal configuration of two auditory cues and one visual cue allowed correct place navigation. The deletion of the two auditory or of the one visual cue did disrupt the spatial performance. Thus rats can combine information from different sensory modalities to achieve a place navigation task. In particular, auditory cues support place navigation when associated with a visual one. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.
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