Spatial learning and psychomotor performance of C57BL/6 mice: Age sensitivity and reliability of individual differences

Nancy Ellen C. De Fiebre, Nathalie Sumien, Michael J. Forster, Christopher M. De Fiebre

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34 Scopus citations


Two tests often used in aging research, the elevated path test and the Morris water maze test, were examined for their application to the study of brain aging in a large sample of C57BL/6JNia mice. Specifically, these studies assessed: (1) sensitivity to age and the degree of interrelatedness among different behavioral measures derived from these tests, (2) the effect of age on variation in the measurements, and (3) the reliability of individual differences in performance on the tests. Both tests detected age-related deficits in group performance that occurred independently of each other. However, analysis of data obtained on the Morris water maze test revealed three relatively independent components of cognitive performance. Performance in initial acquisition of spatial learning in the Morris maze was not highly correlated with performance during reversal learning (when mice were required to learn a new spatial location), whereas performance in both of those phases was independent of spatial performance assessed during a single probe trial administered at the end of acquisition training. Moreover, impaired performance during initial acquisition could be detected at an earlier age than impairments in reversal learning. There were modest but significant age-related increases in the variance of both elevated path test scores and in several measures of learning in the Morris maze test. Analysis of test scores of mice across repeated testing sessions confirmed reliability of the measurements obtained for cognitive and psychomotor function. Power calculations confirmed that there are sufficiently large age-related differences in elevated path test performance, relative to within age variability, to render this test useful for studies into the ability of an intervention to prevent or reverse age-related deficits in psychomotor performance. Power calculations indicated a need for larger sample sizes for detection of intervention effects on cognitive components of the Morris water maze test, at least when implemented at the ages tested in this study. Variability among old mice in both tests, including each of the various independent measures in the Morris maze, may be useful for elucidating the biological bases of different aspects of dysfunctional brain aging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-253
Number of pages19
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2006


  • Balance beam
  • Brain aging
  • Bridge walking
  • Elevated path test
  • Inbred mice
  • Individual differences
  • Morris maze
  • Psychomotor function
  • Spatial learning


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