The effect of brumation on memory retention

Sci Rep. 2017 Jan 11;7:40079. doi: 10.1038/srep40079.


Long-term torpor is an adaptive strategy that allows animals to survive harsh winter conditions. However, the impact that prolonged torpor has on cognitive function is poorly understood. Hibernation causes reduced synaptic activity and experiments with mammals reveal that this can have adverse effects on memories formed prior to hibernation. The impact of brumation, the winter dormancy that is observed in ectotherms, on memory remains unknown. The aim of this study was to examine whether an amphibian, the fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra), was able to retain learned spatial information after a period of brumation. Twelve fire salamanders were trained to make a simple spatial discrimination using a T-maze. All subjects learned the initial task. Upon reaching criterion, half of the subjects were placed into brumation for 100 days while the other half served as controls and were maintained under normal conditions. A post-brumation memory retention test revealed that animals from both conditions retained the learned response. Control tests showed that they solved the task using learned information and not olfactory cues. This finding contrasts with much of the mammalian research and suggests that the processes involved in prolonged torpor may have a fundamentally different impact on memory in mammals and amphibians.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Salamandra / physiology*
  • Spatial Memory*
  • Time Factors
  • Torpor*