Severity of Spatial Learning Impairment in Aging: Development of a Learning Index for Performance in the Morris Water Maze


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Abstract

The Morris water maze task was originally designed to assess the rat’s ability to learn to navigate to a specific location in a relatively large spatial environment. This article describes new measures that provide information about the spatial distribution of the rat’s search during both training and probe trial performance. The basic new measure optimizes the use of computer tracking to identify the rat’s position with respect to the target location. This proximity measure was found to be highly sensitive to age-related impairment in an assessment of young and aged male Long-Evans rats. Also described is the development of a learning index that provides a continuous, graded measure of the severity of age-related impairment in the task. An index of this type should be useful in correlational analyses with other neurobiological or behavioral measures for the study of individual differences in functional/biological decline in aging.

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