Wistar rats with high versus low rearing activity differ in radial maze performance

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2006 Sep;86(2):175-87. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2006.02.004. Epub 2006 Apr 17.


Substantial work has shown that rats although identical in stock, sex, age, and housing conditions can differ considerably in terms of behavior and physiology. Such individual differences, which can be detected by specific behavioral screening tests, are rather stable, that is, they probably reflect a behavioral disposition or trait. Here, we asked whether and how such differences might affect performance in a task of spatial learning and memory, the radial maze. As in our previous work, we used the degree of rearing activity in a novel open field to assign male adult outbred Wistar rats into those with high versus low rearing activity (HRA/LRA rats). They were then tested in a plus-maze for possible differences in anxiety-related behavior. Finally, and most importantly, they were food deprived and underwent maze training using an 8-arm radial maze with four non-baited and four baited arms. One of these arms consistently contained a larger bait size than the other three. In the open field, HRA rats not only showed more rearing behavior, but also more locomotor activity than LRA rats. In the plus-maze, HRA rats again showed more locomotion, but did not differ in open arm time or percentage of open arm entries, that is, conventional measures of anxiety-related behavior. In the radial maze, HRA rats consistently needed less time to consume all pellets than LRA rats, which was due to faster locomotion on the arms and less time spent at the food pits (especially in baited arms) of HRA rats. During the initial days of training, they were also more efficient in obtaining all food pellets available. Furthermore, HRA rats visited more arms and made relatively less reference memory errors than LRA rats. This allowed them to forage food quickly, but was paralleled by more working memory errors than in LRA rats. In general, working memory errors were more frequent in the arm with the large bait size, but there were no indications that HRA and LRA rats responded differently dependent on reward size. Finally, LRA rats lost slightly more weight than HRA rats during the period of food deprivation. These results are discussed with respect to the role of cognitive and motivational mechanisms, which as subject-inherent factors can contribute substantially to inter-individual variability in the radial maze.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Animals, Outbred Strains
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Cognition
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Genetics, Behavioral / methods
  • Individuality
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology
  • Motivation
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Species Specificity
  • Temperament / physiology*