At MazeEngineers, we get a lot of questions regarding the difference between two similar tests: The T maze and the Y maze. There are many similarities, but we do notice some overall trends in the literature regarding the two mazes. There are MANY different protocols and trends change over time, so we recommend using the protocols that are most common for your disease/drug intervention. However, we do notice some general patterns, and hopefully this post can be useful to you.

  • Overview: overall, both the T maze and the Y maze are used to test a mice or rodent’s ability to tell where they have been before, and as a consequence, where they haven’t been before (working memory). They also have very similar procedures:
    • Step 1: Acclimation. Bring the animals to the room 30 minutes prior to beginning from your vivarium so they have time to settle down and focus at the task at hand.
    • Step 2: After the acclimation period, Gently handle the animals (with your hand, not forceps) to the maze with one arm (right or left) blocked off with a door.
      • Make sure an equal number of animals are exposed to the maze with the Left blocked off compared to the Right.
      • Allow the mice 5-10 minutes to comfortably settle into the maze.
    • Step 3: Intertrial Interval: (ITI). Allow the mice or rodent to relax in its home environment
      • After the ITI, place the animals back into the maze, this time with none of the arms blocked.
    • Key Assumption: If the animal remembers which arm was blocked during the acclimation period, they should spend more time in that novel arm. This test should not be done for more than about 5 minutes, as the novelty of the “new” arm will wear off quickly and the test will no longer examine learning/novelty behavior.
    • Decision making: The animal has made a choice when all 4 paws are over some predetermined mark in the maze. Researchers often have some external location or marker on the maze.
  • Key tip: Be very careful when you follow a specific T maze protocol. Not all of them are the same! For example, spontaneous alternation is not the same as working memory, yet both use the same T maze.
  • Key tip: The Y maze also has a continuous alternation protocol that allows for the mouse to run continuously in the maze, with the recently visited arm resetting as the home arm. This is a benefit of using the Y maze.
  • Key tip: T mazes tend to be the most useful for Tg2576 impairment in Alzheimer’s mice. It actually frequntly surpasses the Morris water maze in its sensitivity to specific phenotypes. It is key to reference similar protocols in your disease/drug intervention to determine what the popularly accepted test is.

Summary: Both the T maze and Y maze are great for learning protocols. And can be reinforced with food rewards for better results. The Y maze, however, is sometimes preferred due to the more natural angles as compared to the sharp 90 degree angles of the T maze, which makes learning and performance more difficult for mice and rats.

About Maze Engineers

Figuring out the future of neuroscience, one lab mouse at a time.