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J Neurosci. 1997 Sep 1;17(17):6769-82.

The effect of aging on experience-dependent plasticity of hippocampal place cells.

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  • 1Department of Arizona Research Laboratories, Division of Neural Systems, Memory and Aging, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85724, USA.


The firing characteristics of 1437 CA1 pyramidal neurons were studied in relation to both spatial location and the phase of the theta rhythm in healthy young and old rats performing a simple spatial task on a rectangular track. The old rats had previously been found to be deficient on the Morris spatial learning task. Age effects on the theta rhythm per se were minimal. Theta amplitude and frequency during rapid eye movement sleep were virtually identical. During behavior, theta frequency was slightly reduced with age. In both groups, cell firing occurred at progressively earlier phases of the theta rhythm as the rat traversed the place field of the cell (i. e., there was "phase precession," as reported by others). The net phase shift did not differ between age groups. The main finding of the study was a loss of experience-dependent plasticity in the place fields of old rats. During the first lap around the track on each day, the initial sizes of the place fields were the same between ages; however, place fields of young rats, but not old, expanded significantly during the first few laps around the track in a given recording session. As the place fields expanded, the rate of change of firing with phase slowed accordingly, so that the net phase change remained constant. Thus changes in field size and phase precession are coupled. A deficit in plasticity of place fields in old rats may lead to a less accurate population code for spatial location.

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