Age-related alterations in human neocortical plasticity

Brain Res Bull. 2017 Apr;130:53-59. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresbull.2016.12.015. Epub 2016 Dec 30.


Age-related changes in neuroplasticity may be central to the cognitive decline associated with healthy ageing. Modulated Long-Term Potentiation (LTP) and Long-Term Depression (LTD) have been repeatedly demonstrated in aged rodents, however the translation to human research has been limited by a scarcity of non-invasive methods for doing so. We have previously demonstrated that, following a block of high frequency presentations of a visual stimulus (referred to as a "visual tetanus"), there is a LTP-like enhancement of the N1b component of the visually evoked potential (VEP) to subsequent low frequency presentations of the same stimulus. The aims of the current study were, firstly, to use this electroencephalography (EEG) paradigm to assess age group differences in neocortical plasticity in humans, and secondly, to expand on the visual LTP paradigm by examining plasticity in another component of the VEP; the P2a. While a young participant group (N=29, age range=19-35) demonstrated the expected LTP-like enhancement of the N1b immediately following the visual tetanus, an older participant group (N=19, age range=68-91) did not. However, both age groups demonstrated a positive shift of the P2a component after repeated presentations of low frequency baseline blocks, which is hypothesized to be an LTD-like shift in the VEP. These results support the rodent literature indicating an age-related shift in threshold for LTP, but a relative preservation of the threshold for LTD. This study not only provides valuable insight into healthy age-related alterations in neocortical plasticity, but is also the first to identify an LTD-like modulation of the VEP in humans.

Keywords: Ageing; EEG; LTD; LTP; Neocortical plasticity; VEP.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Potentiation
  • Male
  • Neocortex / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Young Adult