Significance of interleukin 6 (IL-6) deficiency in cognitive processes was evaluated in 4- and 24-month-old C57BL/6J IL-6-deficient (IL-6 KO) and control (WT) mice in Morris water maze (MWM), holeboard test (HB) and elevated plus maze (EPM). During 3-day learning escape latency time (ELT) was longer in IL-6 KO than in WT mice, however their swimming was slower, floating longer, and path length did not differ. The comparison of ELT and the distance traveled between the first and the third learning day within each group revealed significant decrease of ELT in all groups with the highest difference in 4-month-old WT mice, and significant decrease of distance traveled only in both groups of WT mice. In a single probe trial, performed 24 h after the last learning session, there were no major differences in the absolute values of ELT, but ELT turned out to be significantly shorter in both IL-6 KO groups, when it was compared to the ELT on the last learning day, indicating on better memory retrieval. In HB test only significant increase in number of rearings in aged WT mice, and in EPM significant prolongation of open arm time and higher number of open arm entries in 4-month-old IL-6 KO mice were observed. Results of HB and EPM tests showed that alterations of learning and reference memory observed in MWM were specific to cognition.
Attenuation of learning ability in young adult IL-6-deficient mice assessed in MWM suggests that physiological level of IL-6 is involved in mechanisms engaged in proper memory formation, and it may also indicate on the importance of IL-6 signaling in brain development. Maintained on similar level in both 4- and 24-month-old IL-6 KO mice learning ability and its attenuation in 24-month-old vs 4-month-old WT mice indicates on slower age-related memory decline in mice not expressing IL-6. Better performance of IL-6 KO mice in the probe trial points to their reference memory improvement and may also indicate that IL-6 plays a role in mechanism responsible for cognitive flexibility.