Preserved configural learning and spatial learning impairment in rats with hippocampal damage

Michela Gallagher, Peter C. Holland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

139 Scopus citations


This study was undertaken to compare the effect of hippocampal neurotoxic lesions in rats on two behavioral tasks, one a test of spatial learning, and the other an operant discrimination task that is acquired by forming nonspatial configural associations. Lesions of the hippocampus were made with microinjections of ibotenic acid. After postoperative recovery, rats were trained initially to locate a camouflaged escape platform in a water maze using distal spatial cues. Rats also were trained in the maze apparatus with a visible escape platform under conditions in which spatial information was made irrelevant to performance, i. e., cue learning. In an operant task, the same rats were then trained on a discrimination that included simultaneous feature positive and feature negative components (trial types XA+, A−, XB−, B+). After completion of this nonspatial configural learning task, rats received additional training in the water maze using a new platform location for spatial learning. To the extent that proficient performance in both the maze and operant tasks depends on a common function of the hippocampus, i. e., configural learning, the expectation was that hippocampal lesions would prove equally detrimental to performance in both tasks. Contrary to this expectation, lesioned rats were severely impaired in spatial learning but readily acquired the operant discrimination, even exhibiting some evidence of enhanced performance on this nonspatial configural learning task. Performance of the lesioned rats during cue training in the water maze was also enhanced relative to the control group. These results demonstrate that a spatial learning deficit in rats with hippocampal damage does not necessarily occur in the setting of a general configural learning impairment, as originally suggested by Sutherland and Rudy (1989, Psychobiology 17:129–144).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-88
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1992
Externally publishedYes


  • discrimination learning
  • hippocampus
  • ibotenic acid
  • maze learning
  • neurotoxic lesions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Preserved configural learning and spatial learning impairment in rats with hippocampal damage'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this