Visual discrimination learning in the water maze: a novel test for visual acuity.
Robinson L., Bridge H., Riedel G.
Learning about space, the environment and specific objects comprising three-dimensional arrangements requires processing of visual information. As learning and memory experiments in mammals rely heavily on normal processing of visual cues, drug-induced disruption of acquisition learning or memory formation necessitates the important control for visual acuity. A popular task used frequently for rats is the Morris water maze. However, previously used visual tasks in the water maze only control for gross visual disturbances. Here we describe a new training procedure enabling visual acuity to be tested in the water maze. Animals were trained to discriminate between two cue cards containing a pattern of vertical black and white stripes. Cards were presented in two adjacent quadrants separated by a barrier with the escape platform located in front of the smaller stripes (1 cm wide). Once 80% correct responses were attained, the wider cue card (normally 5 cm wide stripes) was randomly changed to gratings of 1,2,3,4,5, and 10 cm width. Animals learned the discrimination with acuity of 1.5 c/deg. A detailed analysis of the swim patterns further suggests that, independent of the grating used, animals make a choice immediately after release and swim along the walls towards the cue. In a further acuity test taken a few weeks later when animals were given saline infusions, performance was better than in the first test suggesting an effect of learning. This novel test may prove useful in determining subtle drug-induced deficits in visual acuity that may contribute to disruption of spatial performance in the water maze.