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Neurosci Lett. 2006 Apr 10-17;397(1-2):64-8. Epub 2005 Dec 27.

Imbalance towards inhibition as a substrate of aging-associated cognitive impairment.

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Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University, Montréal, Que., Canada H3G 1Y6.


The number of synapses in the cerebral cortex decreases with aging. However, how this structural change translates into the cognitive impairment observed in aged animals remains unknown. Aged animals are not a homogenous group with respect to their cognitive performances; but instead, they can be separated into aged cognitively unimpaired ("normal") and aged cognitively impaired groups using a spatial memory task such as the Morris water maze. These two aged groups provide an unprecedented opportunity to isolate synaptic properties that relate to cognitive impairment from unrelated factors associated with normal aging. Using such classification, we conducted whole-cell patch-clamp recordings to measure basal spontaneous miniature excitatory (mEPSCs) and inhibitory synaptic currents (mIPSCs) bombarding layer V pyramidal neurons in the parietal cortex. We found that the frequencies of both mEPSC and mIPSC were lower in aged normal rats when compared with young rats. In contrast, aged cognitively impaired rats displayed a reduction in mEPSC frequency only. This results in an imbalance towards inhibition that may be an important substrate of the cognitive impairment in aged animals. We also found that pyramidal neurons in both aged normal and aged cognitively impaired rats exhibit similar structural attritions. Thus, cognitive impairment may be more related to an altered balance between different neurotransmitter systems than a mere reduction in synaptic structures.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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