Implicit memory and familiarity among elders with dementia.
Spatial disorientation frequently occurs in conditions such as Alzheimer's disease that damage the hippocampus, a brain structure necessary for learning and memory. Use of a single cue to mark a submerged escape platform in the Morris water test can reduce spatial disorientation in rats. If the cue used is a familiar one, disoriented rats perform the wayfinding task as well as control animals. However, in a real-world environment, cues rarely occur alone. This study examined whether rats with bilateral hippocampal lesions familiar with a cue performed the Morris water test as well as controls and faster than lesioned rats unfamiliar with the cue when a distracter was present. Bilateral electrolytic lesions were made in male rats that had received either familiarity with a cue or handling only. Familiar lesioned rats were introduced to the distracter on test days 1 (FB1) or 3 (FB3), and unfamiliar lesioned rats on day 3 (UB3). No significant differences were found for FB1 or FB3 rats and their respective controls. FB1 rats increased mean swim times on day 1 compared to preoperative day 4 (16.44 +/- 4.3 vs. 4.06 +/- 2.1 s, respectively, p < 0.03) but quickly adapted to the distracter. FB3 rats were slower than FB1 rats on day 3 (6.81 +/- 1.0 vs. 4.56 +/- 0.3 s, respectively, p < 0.05). UB3 rats were impaired on the task compared to FB1 rats on days 3-7 (p < 0.05). These findings suggest that cue familiarity is effective in the presence of a distracter and that the response of disoriented rats to a distracter is influenced by the amount of prior experience with the cue.