Aged rats are impaired on an attentional set-shifting task sensitive to medial frontal cortex damage in young rats

Morgan D. Barense, Matthew T. Fox, Mark G. Baxter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

158 Scopus citations

Abstract

Normal aging is associated with disruption of neural systems that subserve different aspects of cognitive function, particularly in the hippocampus and frontal cortex. Abnormalities in hippocampal function have been well investigated in rodent models of aging, but studies of frontal cortex function in aged rodents are few. We tested young (4-5 mo old) and aged (27-28 mo old) male Long-Evans rats on an attentional set-shifting task modified slightly from previous publication. After training on two problems in which the reward was consistently associated with the same stimulus dimension, and a reversal of one problem, a new problem was presented in which the reward was consistently associated with the previously irrelevant stimulus dimension (extradimensional shift [EDS]). Aged rats as a group were significantly impaired on the EDS, although some individual aged rats performed as well as young rats on this phase. In addition, some aged rats were impaired on the reversal, although a group effect did not reach significance in this phase. Impairment in neither reversal nor EDS was associated with impairments in spatial learning in the Morris water maze. Young rats with neurotoxic lesions of medial frontal cortex are also selectively impaired on the EDS. These results indicate that normal aging in rats is associated with impaired medial frontal cortex function. Furthermore, age-related declines in frontal cortex function are independent of those in hippocampal function. These results provide a possible basis for correlating age-related changes in neurobiological markers in frontal cortex with cognitive decline.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-201
Number of pages11
JournalLearning and Memory
Volume9
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2002
Externally publishedYes

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