Morphometric studies of the aged hippocampus: I. Volumetric analysis in behaviorally characterized rats

Peter R. Rapp, Edward C. Stack, Michela Gallagher

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79 Scopus citations


The present investigation examined the structural integrity of the aged hippocampus by using computer-aided morphometry to quantify the volume of principal hippocampal circuits in young, mature adult, and aged Long-Evans rats. A key feature of the experimental design was that the status of hippocampal-dependent learning and memory was documented prior to histologic evaluation. The following regions, which were visualized by using Timm staining, were included in the analysis: 1) outer portions of the dentate gyrus molecular layer (OML) innervated by the lateral entorhinal cortex, 2) middle portions of the molecular layer (MML) that receive input from the medial entorhinal cortex, 3) the commissural/associational zone (IML) immediately adjacent to the granule cell layer, and 4) the hilus and mossy fiber projection to the CA3 pyramidal cell field (MF). To identify morphometric changes that emerge during the same segment of the life span as age-related learning impairment, analysis of the volumetric results focused on comparisons between the mature adult group and the aged group. Among the individual regions that were analyzed, age-related decreases in total volume were restricted to the MML. This effect, however, occurred against a background of other, subtle changes that, together, reflected substantial reorganization in the normal balance of hippocampal circuitry. Age-related decreases in the proportion of the molecular layer (ML) that comprises the MML were accompanied by a corresponding increase in relative IML volume. The ratio between the volumes of the MML and the MF also displayed significant age-related decline. Overall, aging affected septal levels of the hippocampus disproportionately, and, with the exception of MML/MF volume ratio, the temporal hippocampus was spared. Finally, the status of spatial learning among the aged animals correlated selectively with decreases in the MML/ML and MML/MF ratios. These results demonstrate that the effects of aging are regionally selective and circuit specific, and they suggest that connectional reorganization may contribute to age-related decline in the computational functions of the hippocampus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-470
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 25 1999


  • Entorhinal cortex
  • Histological techniques
  • Maze learning
  • Stereology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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