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Development of a maze test and its application to assess spatial learning and memory in Merino sheep

By C. Lee, S. Colegate, A. D. Fisher

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Abstract

A maze test was developed to assess spatial memory and learning in Merino sheep. Total time to traverse the maze and times spent in cul de sacs (errors) were used to assess performance. Both total time and errors decreased when the performance of sheep was assessed on three consecutive days, indicating that sheep learnt to traverse the maze. Scopolamine hydrobromide, a drug known to impair memory, was administered to sheep to validate whether the maze could be used to assess deficits in learning and spatial memory. Sheep receiving scopolamine hydrobromide 30 min before maze testing on each of three successive days were significantly slower to complete the maze on day 3 compared to control sheep receiving saline. The results suggested that the maze was measuring spatial memory and therefore might be useful to assess neurological deficits related to spatial memory and learning in sheep in neurological conditions such as Annual Ryegrass Toxicity. Tunicamycins are chemically and toxicologically analogous to the corynetoxins that cause the often fatal neurological disease Annual Ryegrass Toxicity. Exposure to tunicamycins did not affect total time to complete the maze, the number of errors committed or the ability to retain the memory of the maze configuration when tested 6 weeks later. These results, in addition to showing no adverse effect of the tunicamycins, also indicate that sheep have the ability to learn and retain the spatial memory of a relatively complex maze.

Date 2006
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 96
Issue 1/2
Pages 43-51
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Language English
Author Address CSIRO Livestock Industries, Locked Bag 1, Armidale, NSW 2350, Australia. Caroline.Lee@csiro.au
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Tags
  1. Animal behavior
  2. Learning
  3. Mammals
  4. Memory
  5. Methodologies
  6. peer-reviewed
  7. Poisoning
  8. Sheep
  9. Techniques
  10. toxicity
  11. toxicology
  12. Wool
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  1. peer-reviewed