Contrasting effects of motor and visual spatial learning tasks on dendritic arborization and spine density in rats

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2008 Sep;90(2):295-300. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2008.04.012. Epub 2008 Jun 10.


Rats were trained in four different learning tasks including the Morris-water task, a T-maze delayed nonmatch-to-sample task, a skilled unilateral reaching task, and a skilled bilateral string-pulling task. At the end of training the brains were harvested and stained using a Golgi-Cox procedure. Learning the spatial navigation task produced increased dendritic length and branching as well as decreased spine density in layer III pyramidal cells in occipital cortex. Learning the T-maze task increased dendritic branching in layer III medial but not orbital frontal cortex pyramidal cells and increased spine density in both regions. The motor learning tasks produced increased dendritic length and branching in layer V pyramidal cells in the forelimb cortex in the hemisphere contralateral to the trained limb in the unilateral skilled reaching task and in both limbs in the bilateral skilled pulling task. There were no changes in spine density in layer V in the motor tasks, but there was a decrease in spine density in layer III in the unilateral reaching task. Spatial and motor learning thus produce different patterns of change in layer III cortical pyramidal neurons. Furthermore, changes in spine density and dendritic length and branching are not tightly correlated and can increase and/or decrease independently of one another in learning tasks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Dendritic Spines / ultrastructure*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Escape Reaction / physiology
  • Forelimb / innervation
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Neurites / diagnostic imaging*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Problem Solving / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Pyramidal Cells / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Ultrasonography