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Behav Brain Res. 1995 Jun;68(2):151-8.

Analysis of severe photoreceptor loss and Morris water-maze performance in aged rats.

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Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, Bowman Gray School of Medicine, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1010, USA.


In a study of aging and memory in 25-27-month-old albino rats, performance on a Morris water maze was found to be dependent on the structural integrity of the retina. Generally, as expected, 'learners' had intact retinas, while 'non-learners' had retinas with severe photoreceptor loss and a non-continuous outer nuclear layer, consisting of scattered cell nuclei. However, contrary to this general correlation between learning ability and photoreceptor presence, some learners had severely degenerated retinas and occasionally, non-learners had photoreceptor populations that apparently were comparable to those of learners. Rat retinas from these unpredictable, borderline response categories were examined histopathologically and morphometrically with the purpose of determining the minimal number of photoreceptors (PRs) necessary for animals to be rated as learners on the Morris water maze. However, among these severely damaged retinas of borderline groups, total number of surviving photoreceptors did not vary significantly among the learner, ambiguous or marginal and non-learner groups. The population of surviving PRs in learners was as low as 0.04% and in non-learners as high as 0.4%, as compared to that of young, adult rats. Therefore, borderline learners and non-learners had overlapping surviving PR numbers and the results did not clarify the response difference between these groups in the Morris water maze. It is suggested that the pattern of surviving PRs over the retinal surface, as well as the ratio of surviving rods to cones and their connectivity with other retinal neurons, may be related to the residual function of degenerated retinas of learner rats.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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