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Exp Neurol. 1987 May;96(2):262-78.

Neocortical synaptogenesis, aging, and behavior: lifespan development in the motor-sensory system of the rat.


Little evidence presently exists on the development and aging of synaptic contacts and their relationship to behavior, particularly in nonvisual brain areas. To investigate this interrelationship, rats at a series of developmental ages [postnatal day 1 (P1) to P90] were initially examined on a battery of motor tasks. The battery, ranging from simple reflexive tests to tests of complex locomotor capacities, consisted of tactile-induced forelimb placing, chin-induced placing, body righting, climbing an inclined plane, traversing a narrow beam, and keeping up with a revolving wheel. Following completion of the behavioral testing, the animals, together with an additional group of aged (28- to 29-month-old) rats, were killed and their motor-sensory cortex was removed, stained with osmium tetroxide or ethanol phosphotungstic acid (EPTA), and examined under electron microscopy for density of synaptic contacts. Simple motor abilities such as tactile-induced placing was present by the end of the first postnatal week, with locomotor performance reaching a mature level by the end of the third postnatal week, and intermediate task abilities maturing within this range. Paralleling the development of complex locomotor skills was a sharp increase in synaptic density in the molecular layer of the motor-sensory cortex, commencing in the second postnatal week and peaking at P30. After P30 there was a sharp decline in synaptic density as well as a decline in performance on some motor tasks, although these two functions seemed to be occurring independently. There was a continued, but less dramatic synaptic loss evident in the aged rats.

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