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Neurobiol Aging. 2015 Nov;36(11):3067-3078. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2015.07.024. Epub 2015 Jul 26.

Head west or left, east or right: interactions between memory systems in neurocognitive aging.

Author information

1
Neurocognitive Aging Section, Laboratory of Behavioral Neuroscience, National Institute on Aging, NIH, Baltimore, MD, USA.
2
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA.
3
Neurocognitive Aging Section, Laboratory of Behavioral Neuroscience, National Institute on Aging, NIH, Baltimore, MD, USA. Electronic address: rappp@mail.nih.gov.

Abstract

Cognitive aging is accompanied by decline in multiple domains of memory. Here, we developed a T-maze task that required rats to learn competing hippocampal, and striatal navigation strategies in succession, across days. A final session increased demands on cognitive flexibility and required within-day switching between strategies, emphasizing capacities that engage the prefrontal cortex. Background characterization in young and aged rats used a water maze protocol optimized for individual differences in hippocampal integrity. Consistent with earlier work, young adults acquired place strategies in the T-maze faster than response, whereas the opposite was observed in aged rats with impaired spatial memory. The novel result was that aged animals with preserved spatial memory displayed a qualitatively distinct pattern, acquiring place and response strategies equally rapidly, without disruption when switching between them. Subsequent in situ hybridization for the plasticity-related immediate-early gene Arc revealed that while increasing demands on cognitive flexibility and within-day strategy switching potently engaged the prefrontal cortex in young adult and aged-impaired rats, Arc expression was insensitive in aged rats with normal spatial memory and superior switching abilities. Together, the results indicate that cognitive aging is an emergent property of the interactions between memory systems, and that successful cognitive outcomes reflect a distinct neuroadaptive process rather than a slower rate of aging.

KEYWORDS:

Arc; Hippocampus; Memory systems; Neuroadaptive aging; Prefrontal cortex; Rat

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