Since animals can't speak, they can't tell you whether they remember what just happened, or what they are experiencing at this moment. The most direct way to understand what they are thinking is to observe their behaviors. Behavioral assessment of cognitive function is widely used in experimental studies such as physiological mechanism research of related disease models and drug intervention evaluations.

In neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, animals and humans both have similar symptoms, including severe memory loss. Therefore, researchers usually use behavioral experiments such as water maze, Y maze, and novel object recognition to test the cognitive ability of mouse models of neurological diseases. Herein, we will focus on explaining the Y maze behavioral test commonly used in neuroscience research.

What is a Y maze?

The Y maze behavioral test is mainly used in the analysis of discriminative learning, working memory and reference memory of animals. It can be used to measure the rodent’s willingness to explore new environments, which is usually preferred over returning to familiar spaces. The Y maze consists of three identical arms, and there is a food supply device at the end of each arm. Animal's spatial memory ability can be reflected according to the analysis of the animal's feeding strategy, which refers to the number of times, total time spent, correct times, wrong times, routes, and other parameters related to entering each arm. Compared with the eight-armed maze, the Y maze is simple and feasible to perform. The practicality of the Y maze has contributed to its prevalent use in the evaluation of learning and memory functions.

What are the research applications of the Y maze?

The Y-maze test includes tests of spontaneous alternation and recognition memory, which have been shown to be sensitive to hippocampal damage, genetic manipulation, and amnestic drugs. The application fields related to the Y maze test involve Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, Anxiety/Depression, Intellectual Disability, Mental Illness, working memory assessment, etc.

How to set the equipment parameters of the Y maze?

The Y maze, as the name suggests, is shaped like a Y, with three arms of equal length extending out from a central area, an angle of 120 degrees between each arm. Due to differences in experimenters, experimental facilities, and experimental subjects, animal behavior has great variables in the actual operational process. For your reference, the following figure lists the relevant data of the Y maze experimental equipment parameters of Cyagen's Neuroscience Platform.

What are the experimental procedures of the Y maze?

The primary experiments performed using the Y maze are the spontaneous alternation and spatial novelty recognition tests, described below.

1. Spontaneous Alternation Test

Put the rodent at the end of any arm of the Y maze, let it explore freely for 8 minutes, record the behavioral changes of the animal for 8 minutes with the camera system, and record the following indicators:

The total number of entries: the number of times that animal enters the maze arm (the rat enters the arm once with all four feet as the standard);

An alternation: Successively enter all three arms of the Y maze once.

2. Spatial Novelty Recognition Test

The Spatial Novelty Recognition Test includes two experiments with an interval of 2h. The first experiment is the acquisition period: one arm is closed, and animals are allowed to explore freely in the other two arms for 3 minutes. The second experiment (recall stage) is carried out 2 hours later: all arms are opened, the animals move freely in the three arms for 3 minutes, and the time and distance of exploration in each arm were recorded. The time and distance of exploration in the new arm would be shortened for those with memory impairment. The final parameters to be given include the number of times each arm is entered, and the time spent and distance explored in each arm.

Comprehensive evaluation of learning and memory, mental emotion, and motor coordination ability of animal models through behavioral experiments can help researchers explore complex life phenomena such as cognition, emotion, and movement. 

In addition to the Y maze explained above, there are many common behavioral tests used to evaluate the mental state of rats and mice in neuroscience research, such as: water maze, rotarod, open field, forced swimming, elevated plus maze, and more. More information about each of these neuroscience behavioral tools, their corresponding operational parameters, and research applications will be coming soon! Subscribe now for access to the newest technical updates on behavioral tests for neuroscience, custom research models, and more.