Recovery after chronic stress within spatial reference and working memory domains: correspondence with hippocampal morphology


C. D. Conrad, as above.


Chronic stress results in reversible spatial learning impairments in the Morris water maze that correspond with hippocampal CA3 dendritic retraction in male rats. Whether chronic stress impacts different types of memory domains, and whether these can similarly recover, is unknown. This study assessed the effects of chronic stress with and without a post-stress delay to evaluate learning and memory deficits within two memory domains, reference and working memory, in the radial arm water maze (RAWM). Three groups of 5-month-old male Sprague–Dawley rats were either not stressed [control (CON)], or restrained (6 h/day for 21 days) and then tested on the RAWM either on the next day [stress immediate (STR-IMM)] or following a 21-day delay [stress delay (STR-DEL)]. Although the groups learned the RAWM task similarly, groups differed in their 24-h retention trial assessment. Specifically, the STR-IMM group made more errors within both the spatial reference and working memory domains, and these deficits corresponded with a reduction in apical branch points and length of hippocampal CA3 dendrites. In contrast, the STR-DEL group showed significantly fewer errors in both the reference and working memory domains than the STR-IMM group. Moreover, the STR-DEL group showed better RAWM performance in the reference memory domain than did the CON group, and this corresponded with restored CA3 dendritic complexity, revealing long-term enhancing actions of chronic stress. These results indicate that chronic stress-induced spatial working and reference memory impairments, and CA3 dendritic retraction, are reversible, with chronic stress having lasting effects that can benefit spatial reference memory, but with these lasting beneficial effects being independent of CA3 dendritic complexity.