Lesions within the head direction system reduce retrosplenial c-fosexpression but do not impair performance on a radial-arm maze task

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The lateral mammillary nuclei are a central structure within the head direction system yet there is still relatively little known about how these nuclei contribute to spatial performance. In the present study, rats with selective neurotoxic lesions of the lateral mammillary nuclei were tested on a working memory task in a radial-arm maze. This task requires animals to distinguish between eight radially-oriented arms and remember which arms they have entered within a session. Even though it might have been predicted that this task would heavily tax the head direction system, the lesion rats performed equivalently to their surgical controls on this task; no deficit emerged even when the task was made more difficult by rotating the maze mid-way through testing in order to reduce reliance on intramaze cues. Rats were subsequently tested in the dark to increase the use of internally generated direction cues but the lesion rats remained unimpaired. In contrast, the lateral mammillary nuclei lesions were found to decrease retrosplenial c-Fos levels. These results would suggest that the head direction system is not required for the acquisition of the standard radial-arm maze task. It would also suggest that small decreases in retrosplenial c-Fos are not sufficient to produce behavioural impairments.

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