Using the Morris water maze to assess spatial learning and memory in weanling mice.
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0124521
Mouse models have been indispensable for elucidating normal and pathological processes that influence learning and memory. A widely used method for assessing these cognitive processes in mice is the Morris water maze, a classic test for examining spatial learning and memory. However, Morris water maze studies with mice have principally been performed using adult animals, which preclude studies of critical neurodevelopmental periods when the cellular and molecular substrates of learning and memory are formed. While weanling rats have been successfully trained in the Morris water maze, there have been few attempts to test weanling mice in this behavioral paradigm even though mice offer significant experimental advantages because of the availability of many genetically modified strains. Here, we present experimental evidence that weanling mice can be trained in the Morris water maze beginning on postnatal day 24. Maze-trained weanling mice exhibit significant improvements in spatial learning over the training period and results of the probe trial indicate the development of spatial memory. There were no sex differences in the animals' performance in these tasks. In addition, molecular biomarkers of synaptic plasticity are upregulated in maze-trained mice at the transcript level. These findings demonstrate that the Morris water maze can be used to assess spatial learning and memory in weanling mice, providing a potentially powerful experimental approach for examining the influence of genes, environmental factors and their interactions on the development of learning and memory.