Although rats are able to build complex spatial representations of their surroundings during exploration, the nature of the encoded information is still a matter for debate. In particular, it is not well established if rats can process the topological structure of the environment in such a way that they are aware of the connections existing between remote places. Here, rats were first exposed for four 5-min trials to a complex environment divided into several sectors that were separated by doors allowing either unrestricted or restricted access to other sectors. In the fifth test trial, we measured the behavior of the animals while they explored the same environment in which, however, they faced changes that either altered or did not alter the topological structure of the environment. In experiment 1, closing previously opened doors prevented the rat from having direct access between corresponding sectors. In experiment 2, opening previously closed doors allowed direct access between sectors that had not been directly accessible. In each experiment, control doors allowed us to discard the mere influence of door manipulation. We compared the rats’ exploratory behavior in response to door manipulations that either strongly altered or did not alter the ability to commute between sectors and found evidence that the animals displayed differential reactions to the two types of door manipulations. This implies that during exploration rats build a precise map of the connectivity of space that can be flexibly updated and used for efficient navigation.
Spatial representation Exploration Topology Rat
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
This work was supported by the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) and the Université de Provence, and by grants from Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale (FRM) to A. A. and Agence Nationale de la Recherche to F. S. (ANR grants 08-JCJC-0125-01). We thank Jessica Bellec for help in scoring behavioral events and measuring rater reliability, and Matthew Dyson for useful comments.
Alvernhe A, Van Cauter T, Save E, Poucet B (2008) Different CA1 and CA3 representations of novel routes in a shortcut situation. J Neurosci 28:7324–7333PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Alvernhe A, Save E, Poucet B (2011) Local remapping of place cell firing in the Tolman detour task. Eur J Neurosci 33:1696–1705PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Poucet B (1993) Spatial cognitive maps in animals: new hypotheses on their structure and neural mechanisms. Psychol Rev 100:163–182PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Poucet B, Benhamou S (1997) The neuropsychology of spatial cognition in the rat. Crit Rev Neurobiol 11:101–120PubMedGoogle Scholar
Poucet B, Herrmann T (2001) Exploratory patterns of rats on a complex maze provide evidence for topological coding. Behav Proc 53:155–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Poucet B, Chapuis N, Durup M, Thinus-Blanc C (1986) A study of exploratory behaviour as an index of spatial knowledge in hamsters. Anim Learn Behav 14:93–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Poucet B, Bolson B, Herrmann T (1990) Spatial behavior of septal and normal rats on alternate route maze problems. Q J Exp Psychol 42B:369–384Google Scholar
Save E, Poucet B, Foreman N, Buhot MC (1992) Object exploration and reactions to spatial and non spatial changes in hooded rats following damage to parietal cortex or dorsal hippocampus. Behav Neurosci 106:447–456PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schmajuk NA, Thieme AD (1992) Purposive behavior and cognitive mapping: a neural network model. Biol Cybern 67:165–174PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schmajuk NA, Thieme AD, Blair HT (1993) Maps, routes, and the hippocampus: a neural network approach. Hippocampus 3:387–400PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Thinus-Blanc C, Bouzouba L, Chaix C, Chapuis N, Durup M, Poucet B (1987) A study of spatial parameters encoded during exploration in hamsters. J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Proc 13:418–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar