The study owes much to another quality these rodents share with humans: They love chocolate. "There's no amount of chocolate you can give to a rat which will stop it from eating more chocolate," Crystal said.
Using chocolate as bait in an eight-arm radial maze, the study was made up of a series of five experiments that together provide converging evidence. In the first two, in order to obtain the chocolate, the rats needed to remember the source by which they acquired it, whether they were placed near the trough containing the chocolate or had to run on their own to get there. Using different mazes helped rule out the possibility that overlearned cues from a particular maze led to the positive results.
A third experiment showed that the rats' source memory, the means by which it retrieved the chocolate, lasted for a week rather than the one day that other, more ordinary forms of memory last. This provided converging evidence, said Crystal, that the rats were relying on source memory insofar as source memories decay more slowly than other memory systems.
In the fourth experiment, the rats could obtain the chocolate when the researcher placed them at the trough. The rats remembered this rule, too. Finally, in the fifth experiment, researchers temporarily disabled the rats' hippocampus, the brain region thought to be crucial for accurate source memory. If the task requires source memory, inactivating that area would impair the ability to remember source information, which it did.
"What we're trying to do is to develop behavioral approaches with rodents that tap into those types of memory systems," Crystal said. "This study is the demonstration, the proof of the concept that source memory exists in animals. But the mechanism that supports it is open. We're now interested in working out the sub-areas of the hippocampus that are involved in episodic memory, t
|Contact: Liz Rosdeitcher|