Learning, memory and search strategies of inbred mouse strains with different visual abilities in the Barnes maze

Behav Brain Res. 2011 Jan 20;216(2):531-42. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2010.08.030. Epub 2010 Aug 27.


Visuo-spatial learning and memory were assessed in male and female mice of 13 inbred strains on a small diameter mouse version of the Barnes maze surrounded by a wall and intra-maze visual cues. Mice completed acquisition and reversal training to assess learning, followed by a probe test to assess memory for the spatial location of the escape hole. The C57BL/6J and CAST/EiJ strains showed better learning performance than the other strains. A/J and 129/SvImJ strains showed poor learning performance, which may be due to their low rates of exploration. No differences in memory were found between strains in the probe test. Males showed better learning performance than females in the DBA/2J and C3H/HeJ strains, but there were no sex differences in the other strains. However, mice may not have used visuo-spatial cues to locate the escape hole in this maze, as (1) all strains primarily used the non-spatial serial/thigmotaxic search strategy, (2) no strains showed a reversal effect when the escape hole location was moved, and (3) learning and memory performance were not correlated with measures of visual ability. Multivariate and univariate analyses of variance indicated that mice with good visual ability performed better than mice with poor visual ability, but the effect sizes were small. The small diameter of the maze and the presence of a wall around the edge of the maze may promote thigmotaxis in mice, increasing the use of a non-visual search strategy, thereby reducing the influence of vision on performance and decreasing the sensitivity of this maze design to detect strain differences in visuo-spatial learning and memory. These results indicate that the design of the Barnes maze has a significant effect on learning and memory processes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Behavioral Research / instrumentation*
  • Escape Reaction / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Problem Solving / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reversal Learning / physiology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology
  • Species Specificity
  • Statistics, Nonparametric