Endogenous anxiety and stress responses in water maze and Barnes maze spatial memory tasks

Behav Brain Res. 2009 Mar 2;198(1):247-51. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2008.10.015. Epub 2008 Oct 18.


The effects of abnormally high or low stress on learning are well established. The Barnes maze and Morris water maze are two commonly used tests of spatial memory, of which the water maze is considered more stressful; however, until now this has not been demonstrated empirically. In the present study, mice matched for performance on commonly used anxiety tasks were trained on either the Barnes maze or water maze or received no cognitive testing. Water-maze training induced greater increases in plasma corticosterone than did Barnes maze training, assessed 30 min after the final session. Importantly, spatial learning was inversely correlated with corticosterone levels in the water maze but not the Barnes maze, suggesting that performance on the water maze may be more affected by test-induced stress even within wild-type subjects of the same age and gender. These findings are important when considering the appropriate cognitive tasks for any experiment in which stress responses may differ systematically across groups.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Anxiety / etiology*
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Corticosterone / physiology*
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Radioimmunoassay
  • Social Behavior
  • Space Perception / physiology
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Swimming


  • Corticosterone