New software dedicated to virtual mazes for human cognitive investigations

Elsevier, Journal of Neuroscience Methods, Volume 327, 1 November 2019
Machado M.L., Lefevre N., Philoxene B., Le Gall A., Madeleine S., Fleury P. et al.
Background: Compared to previous neuropsychological investigations with standard paper-pen tests limited to test complex spatial learning and memory processes, 3-D virtual immersive technology might offer new tools for research purposes and for diagnosis in patients suffering from mild cognitive impairment or dementia. Comparison with existing methods: Current software proposes a customizable VR environment combined with an analyser module based on regions of interest and some parameters of analysis or pre-calibrated VR mazes with raw data. New Method: We attempted to create the VRmaze software offering either turnkey mazes with automatic tracking and analysis, or more complex and specific virtual mazes for human brain-behavioural research adaptable to all desired settings and parameters of analysis. The software combines 3D pre-calibrated VR tests or free customizable VR tests with digitized neuropsychological 2D standard and validated tests or tasks. Results: We have tested an ERAM, a MWM and a reverse T-maze on 44 healthy subjects, showing gender differences in terms of navigation strategy. We have observed that the choice of benchmarks, instructions, and experimental parameters influence the performances. Conclusion: VRmaze software offers a translational approach for research units that wish to combine animal models and patient evaluations as well as complex 3D tasks and standardized neuropsychological tests combined with an automatic analysis opening a large perspective in the neurosciences to investigate cognitive functions. A clinical module with preconfigured 2- and 3-D tasks should offer clinicians an easy way to evaluate their patients routinely.