Psychological stress impairs spatial working memory: relevance to electrophysiological studies of hippocampal function

Behav Neurosci. 1996 Aug;110(4):661-72. doi: 10.1037//0735-7044.110.4.661.


Stress blocks hippocampal primed-burst potentiation, a low threshold form of long-term potentiation, thereby suggesting that stress should also impair hippocampal-dependent memory. Therefore, the effects of stress on working (hippocampal-dependent) and reference (hippocampal-independent) memory were evaluated. Rats foraged for food in seven arms of a 14-arm radial maze. After they ate the food in four of the seven baited arms, they were placed in an unfamiliar environment (stress) for a 4-hr delay. At the end of the delay they were returned to the maze to locate the food in the 3 remaining baited arms. Stress impaired only working memory. Stress interfered with the retrieval of previously stored information (retrograde amnesia), but did not produce anterograde amnesia. Stress appears to induce a transient disruption of hippocampal function, which is revealed behaviorally as retrograde amnesia and physiologically as a blockade of synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amnesia, Retrograde / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology*
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Social Environment
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology