Estrogen has been demonstrated to enhance the use of hippocampal-based place learning while reducing the use of striatal-based motor-response strategy (Korol, D.L., Malin, E.L., Borden, K.A., Busby, R.A., & Couper-Leo, J. (2004). Shifts in preferred learning strategy across the estrous cycle in female rats. Horm. Behav. 45, 330-338). Previous research has focused on task acquisition and the switch from a place to motor-response navigation with training. The current paradigm allowed an examination of the interplay between these two systems by having well-trained animals switch strategies "on demand." Female and male Sprague-Dawley rats were taught a motor-response task on a plus maze. The rats were then introduced to a place task and taught to switch, by cue, from the motor-response to place strategy. Finally, the rats were trained to continuously alternate between place and motor-responses strategies. The maze configuration allowed for an analysis of cooperative choices (both strategies result in the same goal arm), competitive choices (both strategies result in different goal arms), and single strategy choices (can only use the motor-response strategy). The results indicate that sex and estrogen-related effects on navigation strategy are limited to the initial stages of learning a task. The role of sex and estrogen is diminished once the task is well learned, and presumably, the relative involvement of the hippocampal and striatal systems is established.
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- Memory systems