Amino acid and acetylcholine chemistry in the central auditory system of young, middle-aged and old rats
Older adults generally experience difficulties with hearing. Age-related changes in the chemistry of central auditory regions, especially the chemistry underlying synaptic transmission between neurons, may be of particular relevance for hearing changes. In this study, we used quantitative microchemical methods to map concentrations of amino acids, including the major neurotransmitters of the brain, in all the major central auditory structures of young (6 months), middle-aged (22 months), and old (33 months old) Fischer 344 x Brown Norway rats. In addition, some amino acid measurements were made for vestibular nuclei, and activities of choline acetyltransferase, the enzyme for acetylcholine synthesis, were mapped in the superior olive and auditory cortex. In old, as compared to young, rats, glutamate concentrations were lower throughout central auditory regions. Aspartate and glycine concentrations were significantly lower in many and GABA and taurine concentrations in some cochlear nucleus and superior olive regions. Glutamine concentrations and choline acetyltransferase activities were higher in most auditory cortex layers of old rats as compared to young. Where there were differences between young and old rats, amino acid concentrations in middle-aged rats often lay between those in young and old rats, suggesting gradual changes during adult life. The results suggest that hearing deficits in older adults may relate to decreases in excitatory (glutamate) as well as inhibitory (glycine and GABA) neurotransmitter amino acid functions. Chemical changes measured in aged rats often differed from changes measured after manipulations that directly damage the cochlea, suggesting that chemical changes during aging may not all be secondary to cochlear damage.