Learning-induced survival of new neurons depends on the cognitive status of aged rats

J Neurosci. 2007 May 30;27(22):6037-44. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1031-07.2007.


Aging is accompanied by an alteration of spatial memory, which has been related to an alteration in hippocampal plasticity. Within the dentate gyrus, new neurons are generated throughout the entire life of an individual. This neurogenesis seems to play a role in hippocampal-mediated learning and learning-induced changes in neurogenesis have been proposed to be involved in memory. However, in aged rats, little is known on the influence of learning on the early development of the adult-born neurons and on the possible involvement of learning-induced changes in neurogenesis in age-related memory deficits. To address this issue, we took advantage of the existence of spontaneous individual differences for performances observed in aged subjects in the water maze. In this task, learning can be divided into two phases, an early phase during which performances quickly improve, and a late phase during which asymptotic levels of performances are reached. We show that the influence of spatial learning on the survival of the newly born cells depends on their birth date and the memory abilities of the aged rats. In aged rats with preserved spatial memory, learning increases the survival of cells generated before learning whereas it decreases survival of cells produced during the early phase of learning. These results highlight the importance of learning-induced changes in adult-born cell survival in memory. Furthermore, they provide new insights on the possible neural mechanisms of aging of cognitive functions and show that an alteration to the steps leading to neurogenesis may be involved in the determination of individual memory abilities.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / pathology
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cell Survival / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley