Aged rhesus monkeys exhibit deficits in hippocampus-dependent memory, similar to aging humans. Here we explored the basis of cognitive decline by first testing young adult and aged monkeys on a standard recognition memory test (delayed nonmatching-to-sample test; DNMS). Next we quantified synaptic density and morphology in the hippocampal dentate gyrus (DG) outer (OML) and inner molecular layer (IML). Consistent with previous findings, aged monkeys were slow to learn DNMS initially, and they performed significantly worse than young subjects when challenged with longer retention intervals. Although OML and IML synaptic parameters failed to differ across the young and aged groups, the density of perforated synapses in the OML was coupled with recognition memory accuracy. Independent of chronological age, monkeys classified on the basis of menses data as peri/post-menopausal scored worse on DNMS, and displayed lower OML perforated synapse density, than pre-menopausal monkeys. These results suggest that naturally occurring reproductive senescence potently influences synaptic connectivity in the DG OML, contributing to individual differences in the course of normal cognitive aging.
delayed nonmatching-to-sample; disector method; estrogen; hippocampus; menopause; outer molecular layer; perforated synapse; post-synaptic density; recognition memory
Rhesus monkeys provide a valuable model for studying the neurobiological basis of cognitive aging, because they are vulnerable to age-related memory decline in a manner similar to humans. In this study, young and aged monkeys were first tested on a well-characterized recognition memory test (delayed nonmatching-to-sample; DNMS). Then, electron microscopic immunocytochemistry was performed to determine the subcellular localization of two proteins in the hippocampal dentate gyrus (DG): the GluA2 subunit of the glutamate alpha-amino-3-hydroxyl-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionate (AMPA) receptor and the atypical protein kinase C ζ isoform (PKMζ). PKMζ promotes memory storage by regulating GluA2-containing AMPA receptor trafficking. Thus, we examined whether the distribution of GluA2 and PKMζ is altered with aging in DG axospinous synapses and whether it is coupled with memory deficits. Monkeys with faster DNMS task acquisition and more accurate recognition memory exhibited higher proportions of dendritic spines coexpressing GluA2 and PKMζ. These double-labeled spines had larger synapses, as measured by postsynaptic density area, than single- and unlabeled spines. Within this population of double-labeled spines, aged monkeys compared to young expressed a lower density of synaptic GluA2 immunogold labeling, which correlated with lower recognition accuracy. Additionally, higher density of synaptic PKMζ labeling in double-labeled spines correlated with both faster task acquisition and better retention. Together, these findings suggest that age-related impairment in maintenance of GluA2 at the synapse in the primate hippocampus is coupled with memory deficits.
AMPA receptor; delayed nonmatching-to-sample test; GluR2; immunogold; PKMζ; recognition memory
Some patients experience enduring cognitive impairment after cancer treatment, a condition termed “chemofog”. Animal models allow assessment of chemotherapy effects on learning and memory per se, independent of changes due to cancer itself or associated health consequences such as depression. The present study examined the long-term learning and memory effects of a chemotherapy cocktail used widely in the treatment of breast cancer, consisting of 5-fluorouracil (5FU) and cyclophosphamide (CYP). Eighty 5-month old male F344 rats received contextual and cued fear conditioning before treatment with saline, or a low or high dose drug cocktail (50 mg/kg CYP and 75 mg/kg 5FU, or 75 mg/kg CYP and 120 mg/kg 5FU, i.p., respectively) every 30 days for 2 months. After a 2-month, no-drug recovery, both long-term retention and new task acquisition in the water maze and 14-unit T-maze were assessed. Neither dose of the CYP/5FU cocktail impaired retrograde fear memory despite marked toxicity documented by enduring weight loss and 50% mortality at the higher dose. Acquisition in the water maze and Stone maze was also normal relative to controls in rats treated with CYP/5FU. The results contribute to a growing literature suggesting that learning and memory mediated by the hippocampus can be relatively resistant to chemotherapy. Future investigation may need to focus on assessments of processing speed, executive function and attention, and the possible interactive contribution of cancer itself and aging to the post-treatment development of cognitive impairment.
Chemofog; Chemobrain; spatial memory; fear conditioning; cognition
Spatiotemporal and recognition memory are affected by aging in humans and macaque monkeys. To investigate whether these deficits are coupled with atrophy of memory-related brain regions, T1-weighted magnetic resonance images were acquired and volumes of the cerebrum, ventricles, prefrontal cortex (PFC), calcarine cortex, hippocampus, and striatum were quantified in young and aged rhesus monkeys. Subjects were tested on a spatiotemporal memory procedure (delayed response [DR]) that requires the integrity of the PFC and a medial temporal lobe-dependent recognition memory task (delayed nonmatching to sample [DNMS]). Region of interest analyses revealed that age inversely correlated with striatal, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), and anterior cingulate cortex volumes. Hippocampal volume predicted acquisition of the DR task. Striatal volume correlated with DNMS acquisition, whereas total prefrontal gray matter, prefrontal white matter, and dlPFC volumes each predicted DNMS accuracy. A regional covariance analysis revealed that age-related volumetric changes could be captured in a distributed network that was coupled with declining performance across delays on the DNMS task. This volumetric analysis adds to growing evidence that cognitive aging in primates arises from region-specific morphometric alterations distributed across multiple memory-related brain systems, including subdivisions of the PFC.
age-related memory impairment; medial temporal lobe; MRI; prefrontal cortex; rhesus monkey
Age-related memory impairment occurs in many mammalian species including humans. Moreover, women undergoing the menopausal transition often complain of problems with memory. We recently reported that rhesus monkeys display age- and menopause-related recognition memory impairment on a hippocampus-reliant test (delayed nonmatching-to-sample; DNMS). In the same monkeys, perforated synapse densities in the dentate gyrus outer molecular layer (OML) correlated with DNMS recognition accuracy, while total axospinous synapse density was similar across age and menses groups. The current study examined whether synaptic characteristics of OML axonal boutons are coupled with age- or menopause-related memory deficits. Using serial section electron microscopy, we measured the frequencies of single-synapse boutons (SSBs), multiple-synapse boutons (MSBs), and boutons with no apparent synaptic contacts (non-synaptic boutons, NSBs) in the OML. Aged females had double the percentage of NSBs as compared to young females and this measure correlated positively and inversely with DNMS acquisition (number of trials to criterion) and delay performance (average accuracy), respectively. Aged compared to young females also had a lower frequency of MSBs and a lower number of synaptic contacts per MSB, and the latter variable inversely correlated with DNMS acquisition. Although proportions of NSBs, SSBs and MSBs were similar across menses groups, compared to pre-menopausal monkeys, peri/post-menopausal monkeys had fewer MSBs contacting one or more segmented perforated synapse and the abundance of this bouton subtype positively correlated with DNMS performance. These results suggest that age- and menopause-related shifts in OML synaptic subtypes may be coupled with deficits in task acquisition and recognition memory.
delayed nonmatching-to-sample test; menopause; multiple-synapse bouton; serial sections; recognition memory
Mounting evidence linking epigenetic regulation to memory-related synaptic plasticity raises the possibility that altered chromatin modification dynamics might contribute to age-dependent cognitive decline. Here we show that the coordinated orchestration of both baseline and experience-dependent epigenetic regulation seen in the young adult hippocampus is lost in association with cognitive aging. Using a well-characterized rat model that reliably distinguishes aged individuals with significant memory impairment from others with normal memory, no single epigenetic mark or experience-dependent modification in the hippocampus uniquely predicted differences in the cognitive outcome of aging. The results instead point to a multivariate pattern in which modification-specific, bidirectional chromatin regulation is dependent on recent behavioral experience, chronological age, cognitive status, and hippocampal region. Whereas many epigenetic signatures were coupled with memory capacity among young adults and aged rats with preserved cognitive function, such associations were absent among aged rats with deficits in hippocampal memory. By comparison with the emphasis in current preclinical translational research on promoting chromatin modifications permissive for gene expression, our findings suggest that optimally successful hippocampal aging may hinge instead on enabling coordinated control across the epigenetic landscape.
Age-related impairments in hippocampus-dependent learning and memory tasks are not associated with a loss of hippocampal neurons, but may be related to alterations in synaptic integrity. Here we used stereological techniques to estimate spine number in hippocampal subfields using immunostaining for the spine-associated protein, spinophilin, as a marker. Quantification of the immunoreactive profiles was performed using the optical disector/fractionator technique. Aging was associated with a modest increase in spine number in the molecular layer of the dentate gyrus and CA1 stratum lacunosum-moleculare. By comparison, spinophilin protein levels in the hippocampus, measured by Western blot analysis, failed to differ as a function of age. Neither the morphological nor the protein level data were correlated with spatial learning ability across individual aged rats. The results extend current evidence on synaptic integrity in the aged brain, indicating that a substantial loss of dendritic spines and spinophilin protein in the hippocampus are unlikely to contribute to age-related impairment in spatial learning.
Hippocampus; Spinophilin; Rat; Aging; Morris water-maze; Learning; Memory; Stereology
A wide spectrum of outcomes in the cognitive effects of aging is routinely observed in studies of the elderly. Individual differences in neurocognitive aging are also a characteristic of other species, such as rodents and non-human primates. In particular, investigations at behavioral, brain systems, cellular and molecular levels of analysis have provided much information on the basis for individual differences in neurocognitive aging among healthy outbred rats. These findings are likely to be relevant to an understanding of the effects of aging on the brain, apart from neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, which do not naturally occur in rodents. Here we review and integrate those findings in a model supporting the concept that certain features of cognitive decline are caused by distributed alterations in the medial temporal lobe, which alter the information processing functions of the hippocampal formation. An additional emerging concept from this research is that preserved abilities at older ages may depend on adaptive changes in the hippocampal system that distinguish successful aging.
spatial memory; hippocampal formation; successful aging; rats; cognitive impairment
In rat hippocampus, estrogen receptor-alpha (ER-α) can initiate non-genomic signaling mechanisms that modulate synaptic plasticity in response to either circulating or locally synthesized estradiol (E). Here we report quantitative electron microscopic data demonstrating that ER-α is present within excitatory synapses in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) of young and aged ovariectomized female rhesus monkeys with and without E treatment. There were no treatment or age effects on the percentage of excitatory synapses containing ER-α, nor were there any group differences in distribution of ER-α within the synapse. However, the mean size of synapses containing ER-α was larger than unlabeled excitatory synapses. All monkeys were tested on delayed response (DR), a cognitive test of working memory that requires dlPFC. In young ovariectomized monkeys without E treatment, presynaptic ER-α correlated with DR accuracy across memory delays. In aged monkeys that received E treatment, ER-α within the postsynaptic density (30–60 nm from the synaptic membrane) positively correlated with DR performance. Thus, while the lack of group effects suggests that ER-α is primarily in synapses that are stable across age and treatment, synaptic abundance of ER-α is correlated with individual performance in two key age/treatment groups. These data have important implications for individual differences in the cognitive outcome among menopausal women and promote a focus on cortical estrogen receptors for therapeutic efficacy with respect to cognition.
estradiol; menopause; aging; cognition; dendritic spines; electron microscopy