The impact of aging on cognitive capabilities varies among individuals ranging from significant impairment to preservation of function on par with younger adults. Research on the neural basis for age-related memory decline has focused primarily on the CA1 region of the hippocampus. However, recent studies in elderly human and rodents indicate that individual differences in cognitive aging are more strongly tied to functional alterations in CA3 circuits. To examine synaptic plasticity in the CA3 region, we used aged rats behaviorally characterized in a hippocampal-dependent task to evaluate the status of long-term potentiation and long-term depression (LTP and LTD) in the associative/commissural pathway (A/C→CA3), which provides the majority of excitatory input to CA3 pyramidal neurons. We found that, unlike in CA1 synapses, in A/C→CA3 LTP is minimally affected by age. However, two forms of LTD, involving NMDA and metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluR), are both greatly reduced in age-impaired rats. Age-unimpaired rats, in contrast, had intact mGluR LTD. These findings indicate that the integrity of mGluR-LTD at A/C→CA3 inputs may play a crucial role in maintaining the performance of CA3 circuitry in aging.
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