Rats with complete fornix lesions or cytotoxic lesions placed in the anterior thalamic region were trained on an allocentric spatial memory test (the Morris water maze). While both lesions led to impairments in locating the hidden platform in this test of reference memory, the thalamic lesions led to a significantly greater deficit than that observed after fornix transection as measured by a number of performance indices. The lesions also led to different patterns of swim behaviour in the pool. The severity of the thalamic lesion deficit was associated with anterior thalamic nuclei damage but not with damage to the nucleus medialis dorsalis. Both the fornix and the thalamic lesions also severely impaired T-maze alternation. In contrast, neither set of lesions appeared to affect the recognition of small or large objects. While the study provides further evidence of a close functional relationship between the hippocampus and the anterior thalamic nuclei, it also shows that disconnection of the fornical inputs to the anterior thalamic nuclei does not provide a full explanation of the thalamic deficit.