Time-place learning over a lifetime: absence of memory loss in trained old mice.


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Time-place learning (TPL) offers the possibility to study the functional interaction between cognition and the circadian system with aging. With TPL, animals link biological significant events with the location and the time of day. This what-where-when type of memory provides animals with an experience-based daily schedule. Mice were tested for TPL five times throughout their lifespan and showed (re) learning from below chance level at the age of 4, 7, 12, and 18 mo. In contrast, at the age of 22 mo these mice showed preservation of TPL memory (absence of memory loss), together with deficiencies in the ability to update time-of-day information. Conversely, the majority of untrained (naive) mice at 17 mo of age were unable to acquire TPL, indicating that training had delayed TPL deficiencies in the mice trained over lifespan. Two out of seven naive mice, however, compensated for correct performance loss by adapting an alternative learning strategy that is independent of the age-deteriorating circadian system and presumably less cognitively demanding. Together, these data show the age-sensitivity of TPL, and the positive effects of repeated training over a lifetime. In addition, these data shed new light on aging-related loss of behavioral flexibility to update time-of-day information.
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