The Morris water maze is a widely used task in behavioral neuroscience for the study of spatial learning and memory, while additionally testing endurance and physical strength. As a commonly used experimental method in Neuroethology, especially for Alzheimer's disease (AD), the water maze has a high appearance rate in Neuroscience research publications.

What is the Morris water maze?

Invented by Richard Morris in 1981, this kind of experiment is called "Morris Water Maze (MWM)" in order to express the commemoration and respect for the inventor. The MWM is also often referred to as a 'water maze'.

The water maze experiment is a neurobehavioral test in which animals learn to find a hidden standing platform in the water by exploiting the animal's natural repulsion to water. This assesses the animals’ ability to remember the spatial position and direction of the maze through the statistical analysis of the time spent by the mice finding the platform. The water escape learning task can simply involve finding a hidden platform in a fixed location, or may involve more complicated training procedures to test specific theories.

Research Application Areas of Water Maze

The Water Maze is currently the most widely used neurobehavioral experimental method in Alzheimer's disease research. The water maze is widely used in neuroscience-related research related to spatial learning and memory, including: Alzheimer's, hippocampal studies, intelligence and aging, cognitive drug development/screening/evaluation, pharmacology, toxicology, preventive medicine, and studying other neurological diseases. It is the most recognized classic experiment in learning and memory research. Taking Alzheimer's disease as an example, the proportion of water maze experiments increased from 5% to 39% over the last three decades (Figure 1).
Application areas: Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, Huntington's disease, mental retardation, Related-drug evaluation

                        Figure 1:
the proportion of water maze experiments increased from 5% to 39% over the last three decades

How to Set Up the Equipment Parameters for the Water Maze?

Like many animal behavior experiments, there are many varying standards in equipment specifications, experimental procedures, and data statistics based on different papers, which often make people puzzled: What is the standard? Which parameters can be changed? What parameters need to be carefully considered?

Given that the water maze is a highly-modifiable apparatus, there is currently no relatively uniform standard in the industry. One hundred people may have one hundred experimental protocols, which has led to endless contradictions and unrepeatable results in the research of neurological diseases, especially neurodegenerative diseases. To provide a general understanding of the experimental factors of importance for the water maze experiment,  the parameters of  Cyagen's Neuroethology platform water maze equipment are listed on the figure below.

What are the experimental procedures for the water maze?

Before introducing the experimental process, we need to understand the two major elements of the water maze experiment, the driving force and the assessment content. The driving force of the water maze is the instinctive aversion of the mice to the water environment, which drives the mice to escape from this environment as soon as possible. The platform slightly below the water surface can basically allow the mice to achieve the goal of escaping from the water environment. Therefore, the mice are motivated to find this platform as soon as possible. The assessment involves analysis of whether the mice can learn to use the surrounding cues as clues to find the underwater platform as soon as possible. Most water maze experiments mainly include (but are not limited to) three parts: visual platform training, hidden platform training, and space exploration experiment.

A: Generally speaking, the water maze can be divided into three stages: visual platform training, hidden platform training, and space exploration experiment;

B: Under normal circumstances, the visual platform experiment lasts for 2 days, and the hidden platform period lasts for 4-6 days. On the last day, the platform is removed to test the spatial memory of mice;

C: In some cases, after completing the experiment in B, the researchers will place the platform position in the opposite direction, repeat the hidden platform period and space exploration experiment again, and test the mouse's ability to regenerate the correct memory.

In addition to the water maze mentioned above, common behavioral experiments in mice include Y maze, rotarod, open field, forced swimming, elevated plus maze, and more. Comprehensive evaluation of learning and memory, mental emotion, motor coordination ability and other aspects of animal models through behavioral experiments can help researchers explore complex life phenomena such as cognition, emotion and movement.

Animal behavioral tests are important tools used in neuroscience research to evaluate behavioral phenotypes and establish rodent models of neuropsychiatric indications. Researchers are able to explore complex phenomena of life through a variety of behavioral assessments, including: the comprehensive evaluation of animal models' learning and memory, psychology, motor coordination, social behavior, and other phenotypic aspects of neurological disorders.

Rats and mice are the most commonly used animal models in neurobehavioral research due to their high degree of genetic homology with humans and wide variety of established disease models. After years of preparation, Cyagen's senior expert team has developed a rat and mouse neurobehavioral assessment platform. Cyagen offers rat and mouse behavioral assessment services using professional recording and analysis systems, including: water maze, novel object recognition test (NORT), Y maze, rotarod, open field test (OFT), forced swimming test (FST), elevated plus maze (EPM), and other types of rodent behavioral assessments. You can choose to use our behavioral platform to accelerate the phenotype evaluation process and conduct experiments on your own, or you can entrust Cyagen to provide one-stop services for your research model project. Our comprehensive services cover the entire process of model generation, from transgenic/gene targeting strategy design, model development, breeding, behavioral testing, phenotype assessments, evaluating surgery/drug treatment, and pathological marker detection; we have cultivated these capabilities to help you complete your research goals in a shorter time. Request a free consultation by contacting us at 800-921-8930, or email