Requiring collaboration: Hippocampal-prefrontal networks needed in spatial working memory and ageing. A multivariate analysis approach

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Ageing is characterized by a decline in the processes of retention and storage of spatial information. We have examined the behavioural performance of adult rats (3 months old) and aged rats (18 months old) in a spatial complex task (delayed match to sample). The spatial task was performed in the Morris water maze and consisted of three sessions per day over a period of three consecutive days. Each session consisted of two trials (one sample and retention) and inter-session intervals of 5 min. Behavioural results showed that the spatial task was difficult for middle aged group. This worse execution could be associated with impairments of processing speed and spatial information retention.

We examined the changes in the neuronal metabolic activity of different brain regions through cytochrome C oxidase histochemistry. Then, we performed MANOVA and Discriminant Function Analyses to determine the functional profile of the brain networks that are involved in the spatial learning of the adult and middle-aged groups. This multivariate analysis showed two principal functional networks that necessarily participate in this spatial learning. The first network was composed of the supramammillary nucleus, medial mammillary nucleus, CA3, and CA1. The second one included the anterior cingulate, prelimbic, and infralimbic areas of the prefrontal cortex, dentate gyrus, and amygdala complex (basolateral l and central subregions). There was a reduction in the hippocampal-supramammilar network in both learning groups, whilst there was an overactivation in the executive network, especially in the aged group. This response could be due to a higher requirement of the executive control in a complex spatial memory task in older animals.

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