Young adult (2-4 months old) and aged (24-26 months old) Fischer 344 (F344) rats were trained for spatial behavior (locating a hidden escape platform) in a circular water maze. The aged rats showed deficits in both the acquisition and retention of the learned response. Following the behavioral training, hippocampal slices from the rats were prepared. Potentiation of CA1 extracellular, somatic field potentials was studied in vitro following either a short stimulus train (4 pulses) or a longer train (50 pulses). Slices from the aged rats showed less short-term potentiation (124.8 +/- 4.9% baseline, mean +/- S.E.M.) at 1 min following the short train in comparison to slices from the young rats (151.8 +/- 7.5%, P less than 0.05). However, following the longer train, no differences were found between the groups in the degree of either short-term (measured at 1 min after stimulation) or long-term potentiation (measured at 60 min). The amount of potentiation seen at various time points after either train correlated with the behavioral measure of retention. These results indicate that F344 rats exhibit age-related behavioral deficits, and age-related synaptic potentiation deficits in response to short stimulation trains. The correlation between the degree of potentiation (both short-term and long-term) and retention of a behavioral task adds strength to the hypothesis that potentiation mechanisms may underlie memory processes.