Age-related differences in affective behaviors in mice: possible role of prefrontal cortical-hippocampal functional connectivity and metabolomic profiles

Front Aging Neurosci. 2024 Mar 8:16:1356086. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2024.1356086. eCollection 2024.


Introduction: The differential expression of emotional reactivity from early to late adulthood may involve maturation of prefrontal cortical responses to negative valence stimuli. In mice, age-related changes in affective behaviors have been reported, but the functional neural circuitry warrants further investigation.

Methods: We assessed age variations in affective behaviors and functional connectivity in male and female C57BL6/J mice. Mice aged 10, 30 and 60 weeks (wo) were tested over 8 weeks for open field activity, sucrose preference, social interactions, fear conditioning, and functional neuroimaging. Prefrontal cortical and hippocampal tissues were excised for metabolomics.

Results: Our results indicate that young and old mice differ significantly in affective behavioral, functional connectome and prefrontal cortical-hippocampal metabolome. Young mice show a greater responsivity to novel environmental and social stimuli compared to older mice. Conversely, late middle-aged mice (60wo group) display variable patterns of fear conditioning and during re-testing in a modified context. Functional connectivity between a temporal cortical/auditory cortex network and subregions of the anterior cingulate cortex and ventral hippocampus, and a greater network modularity and assortative mixing of nodes was stronger in young versus older adult mice. Metabolome analyses identified differences in several essential amino acids between 10wo mice and the other age groups.

Discussion: The results support differential expression of 'emotionality' across distinct stages of the mouse lifespan involving greater prefrontal-hippocampal connectivity and neurochemistry.

Keywords: aging; brain maturation; fMRI; fear conditioning; functional connectivity; locomotor activity; metabolomics.