Distinct components of spatial learning revealed by prior training and NMDA receptor blockade.
Bannerman DM., Good MA., Butcher SP., Ramsay M., Morris RG.
Synaptic plasticity dependent on N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors is thought to underlie certain types of learning and memory. In support of this, both hippocampal long-term potentiation and spatial learning in a watermaze are impaired by blocking NMDA receptors with a selective antagonist D(-)-2-amino-5-phosphonovaleric acid (AP5) or by a mutation in one of the receptor subunits. Here we report, however, that the AP5-induced learning deficit can be almost completely prevented if rats are pretrained in a different watermaze before administration of the drug. This is not because of stimulus generalization, and occurs despite learning of the second task remaining hippocampus dependent. An AP5-induced learning deficit is, however, still seen if the animals are pretrained using a non-spatial task. Thus, despite its procedural simplicity, the watermaze may involve multiple cognitive processes with distinct pharmacological properties; although required for some component of spatial learning, NMDA receptors may not be required for encoding the spatial representation of a specific environment.