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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