• Behavioural testing;
  • Fmr1 knockout mice;
  • fragile X syndrome;
  • Hebb-Williams maze;
  • hippocampus;
  • genetics;
  • memory;
  • navigation;
  • spatial learning

Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most prevalent form of heritable mental retardation. It arises from a mutation in the FMR1 gene on the X chromosome that interferes with expression of fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP) and leads to a wide range of behavioural and cognitive deficits. Previous studies have shown a deficit in basic visual perceptual processing as well as spatial abilities in FXS. How such a deficit may impact spatial navigation remains unknown. The current study extended previous research by evaluating spatial learning and memory using both virtual and physical versions of Hebb-Williams mazes, which allows for testing of humans and animals under comparable conditions. We compared the performance of individuals affected by FXS to typically developing individuals of equivalent mental age as well as the performance of Fmr1 knockout mice to wild-type control mice on the same maze problems. In human participants, performance of the comparison group improved across trials, showing expected significant decreases in both errors and latency. In contrast, the performance of the fragile X group remained at similar levels across trials. Although wild-type control mice made significantly fewer errors than the Fmr1 knockout mice, latencies were not statistically different between the groups. These findings suggest that affected humans and mice show similar spatial learning deficits attributable to the lack of FMRP. The implications of these data are discussed including the notion that Hebb-Williams mazes may represent a useful tool to examine the impact of pharmacological interventions on mitigating or reversing the symptoms associated with FXS.