Premature hippocampus-dependent memory decline in middle-aged females of a genetic rat model of depression

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Aging and major depressive disorder are risk factors for dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), but the mechanism(s) linking depression and dementia are not known. Both AD and depression show greater prevalence in women. We began to investigate this connection using females of the genetic model of depression, the inbred Wistar Kyoto More Immobile (WMI) rat. These rats consistently display depression-like behavior compared to the genetically close control, the Wistar Kyoto Less Immobile (WLI) strain. Hippocampus-dependent contextual fear memory did not differ between young WLI and WMI females, but, by middle-age, female WMIs showed memory deficits compared to same age WLIs. This deficit, measured as duration of freezing in the fear provoking-context was not related to activity differences between the strains prior to fear conditioning. Hippocampal expression of AD-related genes, such as amyloid precursor protein, amyloid beta 42, beta secretase, synucleins, total and dephosphorylated tau, and synaptophysin, did not differ between WLIs and WMIs in either age group. However, hippocampal transcript levels of catalase (Cat) and hippocampal and frontal cortex expression of insulin-like growth factor 2 (Igf2) and Igf2 receptor (Igf2r) paralleled fear memory differences between middle-aged WLIs and WMIs. This data suggests that chronic depression-like behavior that is present in this genetic model is a risk factor for early spatial memory decline in females. The molecular mechanisms of this early memory decline likely involve the interaction of aging processes with the genetic components responsible for the depression-like behavior in this model.

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