A role for puberty in water maze performance in male and female rats

Jari Willing, Carly M. Drzewiecki, Bethany A. Cuenod, Laura R. Cortes, Janice M. Juraska

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adolescence is characterized by neuroanatomical changes that coincide with increased cognitive performance. This developmental period is particularly important for the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), which mediates higher-order cognitive functioning. The authors' laboratory has shown that puberty is associated with sex-specific changes in neuron number and the dendritic tree in the rat mPFC, but the effects of pubertal onset on cognitive performance remain relatively unexplored. Here, we use a water maze task to assess spatial memory for the location of an escape platform, followed by a test of reversal learning, when the platform is moved to an alternate quadrant in the maze. For both males and females, 2 groups of prepubertal animals were tested (postnatal day [P]30 and P33 for females, P40 and P43 for males), along with 1 group of newly (2 days) postpubertal animals and 1 group of young adults (P60). There were no group differences in learning the initial location of the platform or when the platform location changed, although grouping pre- and postpubertal ages did result in significantly better performance in postpubertal animals. In addition after the platform location changed, individual prepubertal males and females spent a significantly greater percentage of time in the quadrant of the maze where the platform was formerly located than the postpubertal animals. This collectively implies that pubertal onset in both males and females coincides with improved performance on a reversal task, which may be linked with the neuroanatomical changes occurring in the mPFC during this time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)422-427
Number of pages6
JournalBehavioral Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016


  • Adolescence
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'A role for puberty in water maze performance in male and female rats'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this