In previous work, we showed that adult rats that were reared socially for 3 months in a complex (village) environment retained allocentric spatial memory for that environment following hippocampal lesions (Winocur et al., (2005) Nat Neurosci 8:273–275). In the present series of experiments, we showed that 3 months of postoperative rearing did not confer the same benefits (Experiment 1), although hippocampal groups, with or without rearing experience, exhibited spatial learning after extensive training (Experiments 1 and 2). Experiment 3 showed that as little as 2 weeks of preoperative rearing in the village was sufficient to retain acquired spatial memories after hippocampal lesions. Probe testing revealed that, although rats with hippocampal lesions exhibited remarkably good memory for preoperatively learned locations in the village, they were impaired when changes in task demands required flexible use of existing spatial representations. In a direct test of flexibility (Experiment 4), preoperatively reared rats were administered a blockedroutes task in the original learning environment, in which on designated trials, a barrier was placed across one of the direct paths to the goal compartment. On encountering the barrier, control rats consistently selected the next most direct route, whereas rats with hippocampal lesions, despite using spatial strategies, made more errors and took longer to find the goal. The present results confirm that allocentric spatial memories can survive hippocampal damage but they are schematic in nature and less cohesive than those associated with cognitive maps in intact brains. As well, there was evidence that, although different processes are involved in their formation, the schematic memories that were acquired preoperatively and survived hippocampal lesions are essentially the same as those laboriously formed postoperatively after extensive training.
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