• behaviour;
  • gene knock-out;
  • Korsakoff's syndrome;
  • learning;
  • working memory


Mammillary bodies and the mammillothalamic tract are parts of a classic neural circuitry that has been implicated in severe memory disturbances accompanying Korsakoff's syndrome. However, the specific role of mammillary bodies in memory functions remains controversial, often being considered as just an extension of the hippocampal memory system. To study this issue we used mutant mice with a targeted mutation in the transcription factor gene Foxb1. These mice suffer perinatal degeneration of the medial and most of the lateral mammillary nuclei, as well as of the mammillothalamic bundle. Foxb1 mutant mice showed no deficits in such hippocampal-dependent tasks as contextual fear conditioning and social transmission of food preference. They were also not impaired in the spatial reference memory test in the radial arm maze. However, Foxb1 mutants showed deficits in the task for spatial navigation within the Barnes maze. Furthermore, they showed impairments in spatial working memory tasks such as the spontaneous alternation and the working memory test in the radial arm maze. Thus, our behavioural analysis of Foxb1 mutants suggests that the medial mammillary nuclei and mammillothalamic tract play a role in a specific subset of spatial tasks, which require combined use of both spatial and working memory functions. Therefore, the mammillary bodies and the mammillothalamic tract may form an important route through which the working memory circuitry receives spatial information from the hippocampus.