The value of spontaneous alternation behavior (SAB) as a test of retention in pharmacological investigations of memory

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2004 Sep;28(5):497-505. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2004.06.006.


Because of its reliance on memory, the tendency for rats, mice and other animals to alternate successive choices of T- or Y-maze arms has assumed considerable popularity in pharmacological studies of spatial memory as a quick and simple measure of retention that avoids the need for extensive training and the use of conventional reinforcers. Two forms of this tendency have been utilized, namely two-trial and continuous spontaneous alternation behavior (SAB). However, as the behavior can also reflect drug-related changes in sensory/attentional, motivational and performance processes, SAB should not be unquestionably accepted as a measure of memory alone. While assessments of post-acquisition drug effects on longer term memory may be possible through the appropriate timing of drug administration, this is more problematic if SAB is used as a measure of shorter term memory. Even though SAB can be a useful index of responsiveness to novelty, its value as a measure of retention is less certain. In this latter respect, a possible alternative to SAB testing might be the recently developed form of the related procedure, responsiveness to change.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Acetylcholine / physiology
  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain Chemistry / drug effects
  • Brain Chemistry / physiology
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Memory / drug effects*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Smell / physiology
  • Space Perception / drug effects
  • Space Perception / physiology


  • Acetylcholine