Aging is associated with memory impairments, but the neural bases of this process need to be clarified. To this end, behavioral protocols for memory testing may be applied to aged animals to compare memory performances with functional and structural characteristics of specific brain regions. Visual object recognition memory can be investigated in the rat using a behavioral task based on its spontaneous preference for exploring novel rather than familiar objects. We found that a behavioral task able to elicit long-term visual object recognition memory in adult Long-Evans rats failed in aged (25-27 months old) Wistar rats. Since no tasks effective in aged rats are reported in the literature, we changed the experimental conditions to improve consolidation processes to assess whether this form of memory can still be maintained for long term at this age: the learning trials were performed in a smaller box, identical to the home cage, and the inter-trial delays were shortened. We observed a reduction in anxiety in this box (as indicated by the lower number of fecal boli produced during habituation), and we developed a learning protocol able to elicit a visual object recognition memory that was maintained after 24 h in these aged rats. When we applied the same protocol to adult rats, we obtained similar results. This experimental approach can be useful to study functional and structural changes associated with age-related memory impairments, and may help to identify new behavioral strategies and molecular targets that can be addressed to ameliorate memory performances during aging.
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