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Memory in the Aging Hippocampus: What Can Place Cells Tell Us?

Iain A. Wilson

Spatial memory impairments in normal aged individuals are associated with changes in hippocampal connectivity and plasticity. Electrophysiological recordings of single-cell activity while an animal is freely behaving allow us to see the brain in action and compare how young and aged individuals process information differently. Specifically, as a rat explores an environment, hippocampal neurons referred to as place cells show location-specific activity. Because the same network of cells is activated for repeated visits to one environment whereas a completely different network is used to represent a second environment, place cells provide a promising window into how the hippocampus forms and uses memories. Studies have found that place cells of aged rats, while showing robust spatial selectivity, do not encode or recall environmental landmark information as well as those of young rats. These weakened processing capabilities may be closely related to the spatial memory impairments suffered by aged individuals. The view from the place cell window is particularly revealing towards age-related memory impairments when placed in the context of known neurobiological changes to the normal aging brain. For these reasons, hippocampal place cells have been and will continue to be a useful tool to investigate memory disabilities of the aged and to evaluate potential preventive measures.

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Blood Pressure Health

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