Advantages of the Modified Barnes Maze

In order to investigate the behavioural performance of rodents concerning spatial learning and memory, the Morris water maze drastically increased in popularity since Richard G. Morris conceived it in 1981 as an alternative to the radial maze. To reduce levels of stress due to the exposure to water, the Barnes maze, which was first developed by Carol Barnes in 1979, is commonly used for mice.

modified barnes maze disk scheme

Pseudo-random pattern of the modified barnes maze (adapted from Youn et al., 2012).

However, the behavioural performance of mice of 13 different inbred strains in the Barnes maze (O’Leary et al., 2011) showed, that even visually impaired mice can learn the Barnes maze task by using non-spatial strategies. One of these non-spatial strategies, the serial exploration strategy, was already described in 1995 by Bach (Bach et al., 1995). Using this strategy, mice are able to solve the task in the Barnes maze without being forced to utilize any kind of spatial memory.

A quantification of the behavioural performance, based on the usual parameters which cannot distinguish between strategies, consequently might foster interpretational ambiguity, instead of revealing scientific insights.

The Modified Barnes Maze

modified barnes maze track

Track of a modified Barnes maze trial.

Therefore, Youn (Youn et al., 2012) designed a modified Barnes maze version. This modification features an apparently irregular pattern of 44 holes, which, due to their spatial distribution, increases comparability to the task of the Morris water maze, and decreases the success rate of serial (non-spatial) strategies.

In a close collaboration with the researchers of Youn’s team, Biobserve developed a specialized Plug-In for their video tracking software Viewer, which allows for the analysis of the behavioral performance in the modified Barnes maze in real-time, based on parameters such as strategy use preference.

Specialized strategy analysis software for the Modified Barnes Maze

modified barnes maze strategy configuration

Configuration if the Modified Barnes Maze. You can define the target hole and the software calculates the strategy score for each of the 44 holes.

The Biobserve Viewer video tracking software allows a real time analysis and strategy scoring of Modified Barnes Maze trials.

44 zones represent the holes of the maze and based on the configured target (escape) hole, the software calculates the stragety score for each of the 44 holes.

During the experiment, the result table shows in real time the number of wrong and correct hole visits, the series of visited holes and the resulting strategy score.

After the experiment, the software allows intra- and inter-group statistics with all relevant Modified Barnes Maze parameters.


modified barnes maze live strategy scoring

The result table shows among other parameters the visits of wrong and correct holes, the series of visits and the resulting strategy score.


Make an appointment for an online demo to see the software in action or request a quote for a Modified Barnes Maze setup.

Bach ME, Hawkins RD, Osman M, Kandel ER, Mayford M. (1995) Impairment of spatial but not contextual memory in CaMKII mutant mice with a selective loss of hippocampal LTP in the range of the theta frequency. Cell. 81(6):905-15.

O’Leary TP, Savoie V, Brown RE. (2011) Learning, memory and search strategies of inbred mouse strains with different visual abilities in the Barnes maze. Behav Brain Res. 216(2):531-42.

Youn J, Ellenbroek BA, van Eck I, Roubos S, Verhage M, Stiedl O. (2012) Finding the right motivation: genotype-dependent differences in effective reinforcements for spatial learning. Behav Brain Res. 226(2):397-403.