Gray and White Matter Correlates of Human Place Learning Competence

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Two different ways of learning have been suggested to support successful navigation. Response learning, through which an organism learns to associate an individual landmark with a goal location, relies primarily on the striatal system. Place learning, on the contrary, relies on the hippocampal system and refers to a type of learning where multiple landmarks are integrated and together form a cognitive map of the environment. The current training study investigates how the gray and white matter correlates of the brain structures involved in place learning, relate to the different strategies. In a virtual environment participants had to pick up objects and then relocate it to their original position. The anatomical and diffusion weighted scans allowed us to investigate how the striatal and hippocampal system contribute to the different learning strategies. We used voxel-­‐based morphometry and fractional anisotropy to examine gray and white matter differences of the hippocampal and striatal system. The results showed increased gray matter volume of the right caudate nucleus for better baseline performance and bigger training effects when all spatial cues were present (standard condition). White matter anisotropy of the right anterior limb of the internal capsule correlated negatively with training effects in the standard condition. These findings indicate that people biased towards using a response strategy have increased gray matter volume of the right caudate nucleus and also increased white matter in the right anterior limb of the internal capsule. Gray matter volume and white matter anisotropy of the caudate nucleus can predict response strategy use.
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