The therapeutic potential of histone deacetylase inhibitor (HDACi) treatment has attracted considerable attention in the emerging area of cognitive neuroepigenetics. The possibility that ongoing cognitive experience importantly regulates the cell biological effects of HDACi administration, however, has not been systematically examined. In an initial experiment addressing this issue, we tested whether water maze training influences the gene expression response to acute systemic HDACi administration in the young adult rat hippocampus. Training powerfully modulated the response to HDACi treatment, increasing the total number of genes regulated to nearly 3000, including many not typically linked to neural plasticity, compared with <300 following HDACi administration alone. Although water maze training itself also regulated nearly 1800 genes, the specific mRNAs, gene networks, and biological pathways involved were largely distinct when the same experience was provided together with HDACi administration. Next, we tested whether the synaptic protein response to HDACi treatment is similarly dependent on recent cognitive experience, and whether this plasticity is altered in aged rats with memory impairment. Whereas synaptic protein labeling in the young hippocampus was selectively increased when HDACi administration was provided in conjunction with water maze training, combined treatment had no effect on synaptic proteins in the aged hippocampus. Our findings indicate that ongoing experience potently regulates the molecular consequences of HDACi treatment and that the interaction of recent cognitive experience with histone acetylation dynamics is disrupted in the aged hippocampus.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The possibility that interventions targeting epigenetic regulation could be effective in treating a range of neurodegenerative disorders has attracted considerable interest. Here we demonstrate in the rat hippocampus that ongoing experience powerfully modifies the molecular response to one such intervention, histone deacetylase inhibitor (HDACi) administration. A single learning episode dramatically shifts the gene expression profile induced by acute HDACi treatment, yielding a qualitatively distinct hippocampal transcriptome compared with the influence of behavioral training alone. The downstream synaptic protein response to HDACi administration is similarly experience-dependent, and we report that this plasticity is disrupted in the aged hippocampus. The findings highlight that accommodating the modulatory influence of ongoing experience represents a challenge for therapeutic development in the area of cognitive neuroepigenetics.
cognitive aging; epigenetics; histone acetylation; microarray; synaptic protein
Memory decline is a common feature of aging. Expression of the immediate-early gene Arc is necessary for normal long-term memory, and although experience dependent Arc transcription is reportedly reduced in the aged rat hippocampus, it has not been clear whether this effect is an invariant consequence of growing older, or a finding linked specifically to age-related memory impairment. Here we show that experience dependent Arc mRNA expression in the hippocampus fails selectively among aged rats with spatial memory deficits. While these findings are consistent with the possibility that blunted Arc transcription contributes to cognitive aging, we also found increased basal ARC protein levels in the CA1 field of the hippocampus in aged rats with memory impairment, together with a loss of the experience dependent increase observed in young and unimpaired aged rats. Follow-up analysis revealed that increased basal translation and blunted ubiquitin mediated degradation may contribute to increased basal ARC protein levels noted in memory impaired aged rats. These findings indicate that Arc expression is regulated at multiple levels, and that several of these mechanisms are altered in cognitively impaired aged rats. Defining the influence of these alterations on the spatial and temporal fidelity of synapse specific, memory-related plasticity in the aged hippocampus is an important challenge.
immediate-early gene; memory; plasticity; synapse
Hippocampal interneuron populations are reportedly vulnerable to normal aging. The relationship between interneuron network integrity and age-related memory impairment, however, has not been tested directly. That question was addressed in the present study using a well-characterized model in which outbred, aged, male Long-Evans rats exhibit a spectrum of individual differences in hippocampal-dependent memory. Selected interneuron populations in the hippocampus were visualized for stereological quantification with a panel of immunocytochemical markers, including glutamic acid decarboxylase-67 (GAD67), somatostatin, and neuropeptide Y. The overall pattern of results was that, although the numbers of GAD67- and somatostatin-positive interneurons declined with age across multiple fields of the hippocampus, alterations specifically related to the cognitive outcome of aging were observed exclusively in the hilus of the dentate gyrus. Because the total number of NeuN-immunoreactive hilar neurons was unaffected, the decline observed with other markers likely reflects a loss of target protein rather than neuron death. In support of that interpretation, treatment with the atypical antiepileptic levetiracetam at a low dose shown previously to improve behavioral performance fully restored hilar SOM expression in aged, memory-impaired rats. Age-related decreases in GAD67- and somatostatin-immunoreactive neuron number beyond the hilus were regionally selective and spared the CA1 field of the hippocampus entirely. Together these findings confirm the vulnerability of hippocampal interneurons to normal aging and highlight that the integrity of a specific subpopulation in the hilus is coupled with age-related memory impairment.
hippocampus; interneuron; somatostatin; neuropeptide Y; stereology; levetiracetam
Converging results link histone acetylation dynamics to hippocampus-dependent memory, including evidence that histone deacetylase inhibitor (HDACi) administration enhances long-term memory. Previously we demonstrated that aging disrupts the coordinated epigenetic response to recent experience observed in the young adult hippocampus. Here we extended that work to test the cognitive effects of a novel, brain-penetrant HDACi (EVX001688; EVX) that we confirmed yields robust, relatively long lasting dose-dependent increases in histone acetylation in the hippocampus. In young rats, acute systemic EVX administration, scheduled to yield elevated histone acetylation levels during training in a contextual fear conditioning (CFC) task, had no effect on memory retention at 24 hours at any dose examined (10, 30, or 60 mg/kg). Pretraining injection of another HDACi, sodium butyrate, also failed to affect fear memory, and CFC training itself had no influence on hippocampal histone acetylation at 1 hour in mice or two strains of rats. EVX administration before water maze training in young rats yielded a modest effect such that the middle dose produced marginally better 24-hour retention than either the low or high dose, but only a small numerical benefit relative to vehicle. Guided by those findings, a final experiment tested the influence of pretraining EVX treatment on age-related spatial memory impairment. The results, revealing no effect on performance, are consistent with the idea that effective procognitive HDACi treatments in aging may require intervention aimed at restoring coordinated epigenetic regulation rather than bulk increases in hippocampal histone acetylation.
The detrimental effect of activation of the chemokine CCL4/MIP-1β on neuronal integrity in patients with HIV-associated dementia has directed attention to the potential role of CCL4 expression and regulation in Alzheimer disease (AD). Here, we show that CCL4 mRNA and protein are overexpressed in the brains of APPswe/PS1 E9 (APP/PS1) double transgenic mice, a model of cerebral amyloid deposition; expression was minimal in brains from non-transgenic littermates or single mutant controls. Increased levels of CCL4 mRNA and protein directly correlated with the age-related progression of cerebral amyloid-β (Aβ) levels in APP/PS1 mice. We also found significantly increased expression of activating transcription factor 3 (ATF3), which was positively correlated with age-related Aβ deposition and CCL4 in the brains of APP/PS1 mice. Results from chromatin immunoprecipitation-quantitative PCR confirmed that ATF3 binds to the promoter region of the CCL4 gene, consistent with a potential role in regulating CCL4 transcription. Finally, elevated ATF3 mRNA expression in APP/PS1 brains was associated with hypomethylation of the ATF3 gene promoter region. These observations prompt the testable hypothesis for future study that CCL4 overexpression, regulated in part by hypomethylation of the ATF3 gene, may contribute to neuropathological progression associated with amyloid deposition in AD.
Alzheimer disease; ATF3; CCL4/MIP-1β; Epigenetics; Neuroinflammation
Basic research on neurocognitive aging has traditionally adopted a reductionist approach in the search for the basis of cognitive preservation versus decline. However, increasing evidence suggests that a network level understanding of the brain can provide additional novel insight into the structural and functional organization from which complex behavior and dysfunction emerge. Using graph theory as a mathematical framework to characterize neural networks, recent data suggest that alterations in structural and functional networks may contribute to individual differences in cognitive phenotypes in advanced aging. This paper reviews literature that defines network changes in healthy and pathological aging phenotypes, while highlighting the substantial overlap in key features and patterns observed across aging phenotypes. Consistent with current efforts in this area, here we outline one analytic strategy that attempts to quantify graph theory metrics more precisely, with the goal of improving diagnostic sensitivity and predictive accuracy for differential trajectories in neurocognitive aging. Ultimately, such an approach may yield useful measures for gauging the efficacy of potential preventative interventions and disease modifying treatments early in the course of aging.
Graph theory; Neural networks; Neurocognitive aging
Pancreatic polypeptide (PP) is a major agonist for neuropeptide Y4 receptors (NPY4R). While NPY4R has been identified in various tissues, the cells on which it is expressed and its function in those cells has not been clearly delineated. Here we report that NPY4R is present in all somatostatin-containing cells of tissues that we tested, including pancreatic islets, duodenum, hippocampus, and hypothalamus. Its agonism by PP decreases somatostatin secretion from human islets. Mouse embryonic hippocampal (mHippo E18) cells expressed NPY4Rs and their activation by PP consistently decreased somatostatin secretion. Furthermore, central injection of PP in mice induced c-Fos immunoreactivity in somatostatin-containing cells in the hippocampus compared with PBS-injected mice. In sum, our results identify PP as a pivotal modulator of somatostatin secretion.
Pancreatic polypeptide; NPY4 receptor; Somatostatin secretion
Aging decreases the density of spines and the proportion of thin spines in the non-human primate (NHP) dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). In this study, we used confocal imaging of dye-loaded neurons to expand upon previous results regarding the effects of aging on spine density and morphology in the NHP dlPFC and compared these results to the effects of aging on pyramidal neurons in primary visual cortex (V1). We confirmed that spine density, and particularly the density of thin spines, decreased with age in the dlPFC of rhesus monkeys. Furthermore, the average head diameter of non-stubby spines in the dlPFC was a better predictor than chronological age of the number of trials required to reach criterion on both the delayed response test of visuospatial working memory and the delayed nonmatching-to-sample test of recognition memory. By contrast, total spine density was lower on neurons in V1 than in dlPFC, and neither total spine density, thin spine density, nor spine size in V1 was affected by aging. Our results highlight the importance and selective vulnerability of dlPFC thin spines for optimal prefrontal-mediated cognitive function. Understanding the nature of the selective vulnerability of dlPFC thin spines as compared to the resilience of thin spines in V1 may be a promising area of research in the quest to prevent or ameliorate age-related cognitive decline.
prefrontal cortex; visual cortex; dendritic spines; macaque; aging
Steroid hormone receptors are widely and heterogeneously expressed in the brain, and are regulated by age and gonadal hormones. Our goal was to quantify effects of aging, long-term estradiol (E2) treatment, and their interactions, on expression of G protein-coupled estrogen receptor (GPER), estrogen receptor α (ERα) and progesterone receptor (PR) immunoreactivity in two hypothalamic regions, the arcuate (ARC) and the periventricular area (PERI) of rhesus monkeys as a model of menopause and hormone replacement. Ovariectomized (OVX) rhesus macaques were young (~11 years) or aged (~25 years), given oil (vehicle) or E2 every 3 weeks for 2 years. Immunohistochemistry and stereologic analysis of ERα, PR, and GPER was performed. More effects were detected for GPER than the other two receptors. Specifically, GPER cell density in the ARC and PERI, and the percent of GPER-immunoreactive cells in the PERI, were greater in aged than in young monkeys. In addition, we mapped the qualitative distribution of GPER in the monkey hypothalamus and nearby regions. For ERα, E2 treated monkeys tended to have higher cell density than vehicle monkeys in the ARC. The percent of PR density in the PERI tended to be higher in E2 than vehicle monkeys of both ages. This study shows that the aged hypothalamus maintains expression of hormone receptors with age, and that long-term cyclic E2 treatment has few effects on their expression, although GPER was affected more than ERα or PR. This result is surprising in light of evidence for E2 regulation of the receptors studied here, and differences may be due to the selected regions, long-term nature of E2 treatment, among other possibilities.
Normal cognitive aging is associated with deficits in memory processes dependent on the hippocampus, along with large-scale changes in the hippocampal expression of many genes. Histone acetylation can broadly influence gene expression and has been recently linked to learning and memory. We hypothesized that cAMP response element binding (CREB)-binding protein (CBP), a key histone acetyltransferase, may contribute to memory decline in normal aging. Here, we quantified CBP protein levels in the hippocampus of young, aged unimpaired and aged impaired rats, classified on the basis of spatial memory capacity documented in the Morris water maze. First, CBP-immunofluorescence was quantified across the principal cell layers of the hippocampus using both low and high resolution laser scanning imaging approaches. Second, digital images of CBP immunostaining were analyzed by a multi-purpose classifier algorithm (WND-CHARM) with validated sensitivity across many types of input materials. Finally, CBP protein levels in the principal subfields of the hippocampus were quantified by quantitative western blotting. CBP levels were equivalent as a function of age and cognitive status in all analyses. The sensitivity of the techniques used was substantial, sufficient to reveal differences across the principal cell fields of the hippocampus, and to correctly classify images from young and aged animals independent of CBP-immunoreactivity. The results are discussed in the context of recent evidence suggesting that CBP decreases may be most relevant in conditions of aging that, unlike normal cognitive aging, involve significant neuron loss.
epigenetics; memory; image analysis; stereology; quantitative microscopy
Epigenetic regulation of gene expression plays an important role in learning and memory, mediating the influence of experience on critical mechanisms of plasticity. Speakers in the opening session of the Summit reviewed research on epigenetic contributions to age-related cognitive decline and discussed strategies for the development of interventions targeting epigenetic mechanisms. The presentations focused on experience-dependent DNA methylation, the regulatory role of microRNAs, histone deacetylases as potential therapeutic targets, and strategies for exploring epigenetic contributions to the aging of brain and cognition. This session established useful mileposts for gaging progress in this rapidly advancing area of research.
Cognitive changes; Epigenetics
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
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
Preclinical studies in aged, surgically-menopausal rhesus monkeys have revealed powerful benefits of intermittent estrogen injections on prefrontal cortex-dependent working memory, together with corresponding effects on dendritic spine morphology in the prefrontal cortex. This contrasts with the inconsistent effects of hormone therapy (HT) reported in clinical studies in women. Factors contributing to this discrepancy could include differences in the formulation and sequence of HT regimens, resulting in different neurobiological outcomes. The current study evaluated, in aging surgically menopausal rhesus monkeys, the cognitive effects of four HT regimens modeled directly on human clinical practice, including continuous estrogen treatment opposed by progesterone. None of the regimens tested produced any cognitive effect, despite yielding physiologically relevant serum hormone levels, as intended. These findings have implications for the design of regimens that might optimize the benefits of hormone treatment for healthy aging, and suggest that common HT protocols used by women may fail to result in substantial cognitive benefit, at least via direct effects on the prefrontal cortex.
ovarian hormones; aging; macaque; learning; memory; prefrontal; temporal
Rhesus monkeys provide a valuable model for studying the basis of cognitive aging because they are vulnerable to age-related decline in executive function and memory in a manner similar to humans. Some of the behavioral tasks sensitive to the effects of aging are the delayed response working memory test, recognition memory tests including the delayed nonmatching-to-sample and the delayed recognition span task, and tests of executive function including reversal learning and conceptual set-shifting task. Much effort has been directed toward discovering the neurobiological parameters that are coupled to individual differences in age-related cognitive decline. Area 46 of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) has been extensively studied for its critical role in executive function while the hippocampus and related cortical regions have been a major target of research for memory function. Some of the key age-related changes in area 46 include decreases in volume, microcolumn strength, synapse density, and α1- and α2-adrenergic receptor binding densities. All of these measures significantly correlate with cognitive scores. Interestingly, the critical synaptic subtypes associated with cognitive function appear to be different between the dlPFC and the hippocampus. For example, the dendritic spine subtype most critical to task acquisition and vulnerable to aging in area 46 is the thin spine, whereas in the dentate gyrus, the density of large mushroom spines with perforated synapses correlates with memory performance. This review summarizes age-related changes in anatomical, neuronal, and synaptic parameters within brain areas implicated in cognition and whether these changes are associated with cognitive decline.
Aging; Area 46; Dentate gyrus; Executive function; Recognition memory; Perforated synapse
Preclinical animal models have provided strong evidence that estrogen therapy (ET) enhances cognition and induces spinogenesis in neuronal circuits. However, clinical studies have been inconsistent, with some studies revealing adverse effects of ET, including an increased risk of dementia. In an effort to bridge this disconnect between the preclinical and clinical data, we have developed a non-human primate (NHP) model of ET combined with high-resolution dendritic spine analysis of dorsolateral prefrontal cortical (dlPFC) neurons. Previously, we reported cyclic ET in aged, ovariectomized NHPs increased spine density on dlPFC neurons. Here, we report that monkeys treated with cyclic E treatment paired with cyclic progesterone (P), continuous E combined with P (either cyclic or continuous), or unopposed continuous E failed to increase spines on dlPFC neurons. Given that the most prevalent form of ET prescribed to women is a combined and continuous E and P, these data bring into convergence the human neuropsychological findings and preclinical neurobiological evidence that standard hormone therapy in women is unlikely to yield the synaptic benefit presumed to underlie the cognitive enhancement reported in animal models.
Preclinical animal models have provided strong evidence that estrogen (E) therapy (ET) enhances cognition and induces spinogenesis in neuronal circuits. However, clinical studies have been inconsistent, with some studies revealing adverse effects of ET, including an increased risk of dementia. In an effort to bridge this disconnect between the preclinical and clinical data, we have developed a nonhuman primate (NHP) model of ET combined with high-resolution dendritic spine analysis of dorsolateral prefrontal cortical (dlPFC) neurons. Previously, we reported cyclic ET in aged, ovariectomized NHPs increased spine density on dlPFC neurons. Here, we report that monkeys treated with cyclic E treatment paired with cyclic progesterone (P), continuous E combined with P (either cyclic or continuous), or unopposed continuous E failed to increase spines on dlPFC neurons. Given that the most prevalent form of ET prescribed to women is a combined and continuous E and P, these data bring into convergence the human neuropsychological findings and preclinical neurobiological evidence that standard hormone therapy in women is unlikely to yield the synaptic benefit presumed to underlie the cognitive enhancement reported in animal models.
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
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.
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
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