Animal Cognition

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 359–368 | Cite as

Rats build and update topological representations through exploration

  • Alice Alvernhe
  • Francesca Sargolini
  • Bruno Poucet
Original Paper


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 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.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alice Alvernhe
    • 1
    • 2
  • Francesca Sargolini
    • 1
    • 2
  • Bruno Poucet
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Laboratoire de Neurobiologie de la CognitionCNRS—Aix-Marseille Université, UMR 6155MarseilleFrance
  2. 2.Laboratoire de Neurobiologie de la CognitionUniversité de Provence, UMR 6155Marseille cedex 03France

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