Brain aging: Impaired coding of novel environmental cues

Heikki Tanila, Perttu Sipilä, Matthew Shapiro, Howard Eichenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Studies of the spatial memory capacities of aged animals usually focus on performance during the learning of new environments. By contrast, efforts to characterize age-related alterations in spatial firing information processing by hippocampal neurons typically use an environment that is highly familiar to the animals. In the present study we compared the firing properties of hippocampal neurons in young adult and aged rats as they acquired spatial information about new environmental cues. Hippocampal complex spike cells were recorded while rats performed a radial arm maze task in a familiar environment and then recorded again after many of the spatial cues were changed. After the change in the environment, in aged rats 35-42% of place fields retained their original shape and location with respect to the maze center, although they usually rotated to another arm. By contrast, all place fields in young animals either disappeared or appeared in a new location. Some of the new place fields appeared in the new environment during the first 5 min of exploration, whereas others needed more than 30 min to develop fully. In the familiar environment spatial selectivity of place cells was similar in young and aged rats. By contrast, when rats were placed into a new environment, spatial selectivity decreased considerably in aged memory- impaired rats compared with that of young rats and aged rats with intact memory performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5167-5174
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number13
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Electrophysiology
  • Hippocampus
  • Place field
  • Rat
  • Spatial learning


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