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Insights on ‘cognitive maps’ in rats


Identifying a type of ‘mental map’ that guides behaviour may have implications for our understanding of psychiatric disorders, suggests a recent rat study.


Researchers at EARA member the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Germany, the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and Concordia University, Canada, studied rats who performed a task based on logic.


The team then disrupted the activity of the lOFC – the lateral orbitofrontal cortex – a region of the brain known to be important in creating so-called cognitive maps, to see how it would affect the creation of the maps in some of the rats.


Cognitive maps are visual brain representations of our external surroundings that allow both humans and rats to work out directions and recognise locations.


By comparing the rats with those that had not had their brain activity affected, the researchers found that the lOFC plays an important role in writing cognitive maps to help guide the rats’ behaviour during the task.


An abnormal lOFC is sometimes seen in certain psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).


Dr Kauê Machado Costa at NIDA told Medical Xpress: "Our results open the possibility for a reinterpretation of the role of the lOFC in these pathologies, and of the dysfunctional behaviour in patients diagnosed with them.”


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