Head west or left, east or right: Interactions between memory systems in neurocognitive aging

Inês Tomás Pereira, Michela Gallagher, Peter R. Rapp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cognitive aging is accompanied by decline in multiple domains of memory. Here, we developed a T-maze task that required rats to learn competing hippocampal, and striatal navigation strategies in succession, across days. A final session increased demands on cognitive flexibility and required within-day switching between strategies, emphasizing capacities that engage the prefrontal cortex. Background characterization in young and aged rats used a water maze protocol optimized for individual differences in hippocampal integrity. Consistent with earlier work, young adults acquired place strategies in the T-maze faster than response, whereas the opposite was observed in aged rats with impaired spatial memory. The novel result was that aged animals with preserved spatial memory displayed a qualitatively distinct pattern, acquiring place and response strategies equally rapidly, without disruption when switching between them. Subsequent in situ hybridization for the plasticity-related immediate-early gene Arc revealed that while increasing demands on cognitive flexibility and within-day strategy switching potently engaged the prefrontal cortex in young adult and aged-impaired rats, Arc expression was insensitive in aged rats with normal spatial memory and superior switching abilities. Together, the results indicate that cognitive aging is an emergent property of the interactions between memory systems, and that successful cognitive outcomes reflect a distinct neuroadaptive process rather than a slower rate of aging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3067-3078
Number of pages12
JournalNeurobiology of aging
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2015


  • Arc
  • Hippocampus
  • Memory systems
  • Neuroadaptive aging
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Rat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Aging
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


Dive into the research topics of 'Head west or left, east or right: Interactions between memory systems in neurocognitive aging'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this