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Prog Neurobiol. 2003 Feb;69(3):143-79.

Impact of aging on hippocampal function: plasticity, network dynamics, and cognition.

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  • 1Arizona Research Laboratories, Division of Neural Systems, Memory, and Aging, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA


Aging is associated with specific impairments of learning and memory, some of which are similar to those caused by hippocampal damage. Studies of the effects of aging on hippocampal anatomy, physiology, plasticity, and network dynamics may lead to a better understanding of age-related cognitive deficits. Anatomical and electrophysiological studies indicate that the hippocampus of the aged rat sustains a loss of synapses in the dentate gyrus, a loss of functional synapses in area CA1, a decrease in the NMDA-receptor-mediated response at perforant path synapses onto dentate gyrus granule cells, and an alteration of Ca(2+) regulation in area CA1. These changes may contribute to the observed age-related impairments of synaptic plasticity, which include deficits in the induction and maintenance of long-term potentiation (LTP) and lower thresholds for depotentiation and long-term depression (LTD). This shift in the balance of LTP and LTD could, in turn, impair the encoding of memories and enhance the erasure of memories, and therefore contribute to cognitive deficits experienced by many aged mammals. Altered synaptic plasticity may also change the dynamic interactions among cells in hippocampal networks, causing deficits in the storage and retrieval of information about the spatial organization of the environment. Further studies of the aged hippocampus will not only lead to treatments for age-related cognitive impairments, but may also clarify the mechanisms of learning in adult mammals.

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