The chemotherapeutic agent paclitaxel selectively impairs reversal learning while sparing prior learning, new learning and episodic memory

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2017 Oct;144:259-270. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2017.08.001. Epub 2017 Aug 12.


Chemotherapy is widely used to treat patients with systemic cancer. The efficacy of cancer therapies is frequently undermined by adverse side effects that have a negative impact on the quality of life of cancer survivors. Cancer patients who receive chemotherapy often experience chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment across a variety of domains including memory, learning, and attention. In the current study, the impact of paclitaxel, a taxane derived chemotherapeutic agent, on episodic memory, prior learning, new learning, and reversal learning were evaluated in rats. Neurogenesis was quantified post-treatment in the dentate gyrus of the same rats using immunostaining for 5-Bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdU) and Ki67. Paclitaxel treatment selectively impaired reversal learning while sparing episodic memory, prior learning, and new learning. Furthermore, paclitaxel-treated rats showed decreases in markers of hippocampal cell proliferation, as measured by markers of cell proliferation assessed using immunostaining for Ki67 and BrdU. This work highlights the importance of using multiple measures of learning and memory to identify the pattern of impaired and spared aspects of chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment.

Keywords: Chemotherapy; Episodic memory; Learning; Neurogenesis; Rats; Reversal learning.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / administration & dosage*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Dentate Gyrus / drug effects
  • Dentate Gyrus / physiology
  • Learning / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Neurogenesis / drug effects
  • Paclitaxel / administration & dosage*
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reversal Learning / drug effects*


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Paclitaxel