Learning strategy preferences depend upon circulating estrogen levels, with enhanced hippocampus-sensitive place learning coinciding with elevated estrogen levels. The effects of estrogen on strategy may be mediated by fluctuations in GABAergic function, given that inhibitory tone in the hippocampus is low when estrogen is high. We investigated the effects on learning strategy of intrahippocampal injections of a GABAA agonist in gonadally intact female rats. On the day of training, rats received 0.3 μL intrahippocampal infusions of muscimol (0.26 nmol or 2.6 nmol) or saline 20 min prior to training on a T-maze in which place (hippocampus-sensitive) or response (striatum-sensitive) strategies offer effective solutions. Muscimol treatment increased the use of the response strategy in a dose-dependent manner without influencing learning speed, indicating that muscimol modulated strategy and not learning ability. Furthermore, the muscimol-related shift to response strategies varied across the estrous cycle. The results indicate that increasing inhibition in the hippocampus biases rats away from hippocampus-sensitive place learning strategies and toward hippocampus-insensitive response learning strategies without a learning deficit. Furthermore, rats at proestrus demonstrated the most dramatic shift in learning strategy following muscimol treatment compared with control conditions, while rats at estrus demonstrated the most complete bias toward response strategies. The enhanced use of hippocampus-sensitive strategies at proestrus likely results from reduced hippocampal inhibition.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience