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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 Jul;1170:718-24. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.03929.x.

Age-related changes in associative learning for olfactory and visual stimuli in rodents.

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Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, San Diego, California 92120-4913, USA.


Memory for olfactory stimuli may be particularly affected by age-related brain changes in humans and may be an early indicator of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. Studies involving rats have offered insights into impaired cognition in aged animals, but few have examined odor memory. Therefore, it is unclear whether aged rats are a good model for possible age-related changes in odor memory in humans. Young (6-month-old) and old (24-month-old) rats were tested on associative learning tasks involving visual and olfactory stimuli. The first task examined age-related differences in discrimination and reversal learning for olfactory and visual stimuli; the second task utilized an associative contextual learning task involving olfactory and visual cues. Although old rats were able to perform the olfactory and visual discrimination tasks as well as young rats, old rats displayed significant age-related impairment on the reversal learning and contextual learning tasks. The results suggest that aging may have a similar deleterious effect on odor memory in rats and in humans. The findings may have important implications for the selection of memory paradigms for future research studies on aging. In addition, the use of an animal model to investigate the effects of aging on odor memory will allow researchers the ability to investigate how age-related neuroanatomical and neurochemical changes may result in impaired odor memory.

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