Rodents commonly exhibit age-related impairments in spatial learning tasks, deficits widely thought to reflect cellular or synaptic dysfunction in the hippocampus. Using whole-cell recordings, we examined the afterhyperpolarization (AHP) in CA1 pyramidal cells in hippocampal slices from young (4-6 months of age) and aged (24-26 months of age) Fisher 344 male rats that had been behaviorally characterized in the Morris water maze. The slow AHP (sAHP) recorded from learning-impaired aged rats (AI) was significantly larger than that seen in either age-matched unimpaired rats or young controls. Among aged rats, sAHP amplitude was inversely correlated with both acquisition and probe performance in the water maze. Action potential parameters among the three groups were similar, except for spike accommodation, which was more pronounced in the AI group. Intracellular application of the cAMP analog 8-CPT-cAMP suppressed the sAHP but failed to reveal any age- or performance-related differences in the medium AHP. 8-CPT-cAMP abolished the age-related difference in spike accommodation, whereas instantaneous firing frequency was unchanged. Calcium spikes were of similar amplitude in all three groups but were broader and had significantly larger tails in aged rats; these age-related changes could be mimicked in young neurons after exposure to BayK8644. The calcium spike among aged rats correlated with task acquisition in the maze but, unlike the sAHP, failed to correlate with probe performance. This is the first demonstration that sAHP amplitude covaries with spatial learning ability in aged rats, implying that CA1 excitability strongly influences certain aspects of cognitive function. Our findings also indicate that multiple processes, in addition to elevated calcium influx, conspire to induce cognitive decline during aging.