Protective effect of practice on cognition during aging: implications for predictive characteristics of performance and efficacy of practice

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2002 Sep;78(2):294-320. doi: 10.1006/nlme.2002.4064.


In the present study, the effect of previous experience on spatial memory, which required the retention of information either over long intervals or within a single session, was longitudinally tested in the water maze in male F-344 rats that were from 6 to 24 months of age. Performance in these tasks was found to be age-dependent (Markowska, 1999). Other behavioral tasks in the straight alley and with a visible platform in the water maze controlled the noncognitive components of performance. For all tasks, performance was significantly correlated between 12-month-old and 18-month-old rats, indicating that cognitive performance at the early, but not advanced, stage of aging could be predicted from performance at a younger age if the novelty of the first exposure to the task was eliminated. The protective effect of experience was more robust in the reference memory task as compared to the working memory task and was modified by age when training was initiated. Behavior during the probe trials was more sensitive to the effect of aging and more resistant to the beneficial effect of practice as compared to the performance in the platform trials. The speed of swimming of experienced rats progressively decreased with age only when tested in the cognitive tasks but not in the straight alley. This indicates that speed of swimming during cognitive tasks does not exclusively reflect the ability to swim, but might be also affected by the cognitive demands of the task. Protective effect of experience on cognition was not modified by restriction in diet.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Periodicity
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344
  • Space Perception / physiology
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology
  • Swimming / physiology
  • Visual Acuity / physiology