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Experiments on rodents have demonstrated that transecting the white matter fibre pathway linking the hippocampus with an array of cortical and subcortical structures - the fornix - impairs flexible navigational learning in the Morris Water Maze (MWM), as well as similar spatial learning tasks. While diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) studies in humans have linked inter-individual differences in fornix microstructure to episodic memory abilities, its role in human spatial learning is currently unknown. We used high-angular resolution diffusion MRI combined with constrained spherical deconvolution-based tractography, to ask whether inter-individual differences in fornix microstructure in healthy young adults would be associated with spatial learning in a virtual reality navigation task. To efficiently capture individual learning across trials, we adopted a novel curve fitting approach to estimate a single index of learning rate. We found a statistically significant correlation between learning rate and the microstructure (mean diffusivity) of the fornix, but not that of a comparison tract linking occipital and anterior temporal cortices (the inferior longitudinal fasciculus, ILF). Further, this correlation remained significant when controlling for both hippocampal volume and participant gender. These findings extend previous animal studies by demonstrating the functional relevance of the fornix for human spatial learning in a virtual reality environment, and highlight the importance of a distributed neuroanatomical network, underpinned by key white matter pathways, such as the fornix, in complex spatial behaviour.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior
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Process in which individuals take the initiative, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying resources for learning, choosing and implementing learning strategies and evaluating learning outcomes (Knowles, 1975)
Heavily myelinated fiber bundle of the TELENCEPHALON projecting from the hippocampal formation to the HYPOTHALAMUS. Some authorities consider the fornix part of the LIMBIC SYSTEM. The fimbria starts as a flattened band of axons arising from the subiculum and HIPPOCAMPUS, which then thickens to form the fornix.
Learning the correct route through a maze to obtain reinforcement. It is used for human or animal populations. (Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms, 6th ed)
Change in learning in one situation due to prior learning in another situation. The transfer can be positive (with second learning improved by first) or negative (where the reverse holds).
A principle that learning is facilitated when the learner receives immediate evaluation of learning performance. The concept also hypothesizes that learning is facilitated when the learner is promptly informed whether a response is correct, and, if incorrect, of the direction of error.
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