Validation of a rodent model of episodic memory

Anim Cogn. 2011 May;14(3):325-40. doi: 10.1007/s10071-010-0367-0. Epub 2010 Dec 17.


Episodic memory consists of representations of specific episodes that happened in the past. Modeling episodic memory in animals requires careful examination of alternative explanations of performance. Putative evidence of episodic-like memory may be based on encoding failure or expectations derived from well-learned semantic rules. In Experiment 1, rats were tested in a radial maze with study and test phases separated by a retention interval. The replenishment of chocolate (at its study-phase location) depended on two factors: time of day (morning vs. afternoon) and the presence or absence of chocolate pellets at the start of the test phase. Because replenishment could not be decoded until the test phase, rats were required to encode the study episode. Success in this task rules out encoding failure. In Experiment 2, two identical mazes in different rooms were used. Chocolate replenishment was trained in one room, and then they were asked to report about a recent event in a different room, where they had no expectation that the memory assessment would occur. Rats successfully answered the unexpected question, ruling out use of expectations derived from well-learned semantic rules. Our behavioral methods for modeling episodic memory may have broad application for assessments of genetic, neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological bases of both episodic memory and memory disorders such as those that occur in Alzheimer's disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Male
  • Maze Learning
  • Memory, Long-Term
  • Mental Recall*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans / psychology*
  • Reward