The question examined in this study is concerned with a possible functional dissociation between the hippocampal formation and the prefrontal cortex in spatial navigation. Wistar rats with hippocampal damage (inflicted by a bilateral lesion of the fimbria fornix), rats with damage to the medial prefrontal cortex, and control-operated rats were examined for their performance in either one of two different spatial tasks in a Morris water maze, a place learning task (requiring a locale system), or a response learning task (requiring a taxon system). Performance of the classical place learning (allocentric) task was found to be impaired in rats with lesions of the fimbria fornix, but not in rats with damage of the medial prefrontal cortex, while the opposite effect was found in the response learning (egocentric) task. These findings are indicative of a double functional dissociation of these two brain regions with respect to the two different forms of spatial navigation. When the place learning task was modified by relocating the platform, the impairment in animals with fimbria fornix lesions was even more pronounced than before, while the performance of animals with medial prefrontal cortex lesions was similar to that of their controls. When the task was again modified by changing the hidden platform for a clearly visible one (visual cue task), the animals with fimbria fornix lesions had, at least initially, shorter latencies than their controls. By contrast, in the animals with medial prefrontal cortex damage this change led to a slight increase in escape latency.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.