Postdoc, Dr. Sarah Johnson & colleagues published in the March 28, 2017 Hippocampus journal

Johnson SA, Turner SM, Santacroce LA, Carty KN, Shafiq L, Bizon JL, et al. Age-related impairments in discriminating perceptually similar objects parallel those observed in humans. Hippocampus. 2017.


The ability to accurately remember distinct episodes is supported by high-level sensory discrimination. Performance on mnemonic similarity tasks, which test high-level discrimination, declines with advancing age in humans and these deficits have been linked to altered activity in hippocampal CA3 and dentate gyrus. Lesion studies in animal models, however, point to the perirhinal cortex as a brain region critical for sensory discriminations that serve memory. Reconciliation of the contributions of different regions within the cortical-hippocampal circuit requires the development of a discrimination paradigm comparable to the human mnemonic similarity task that can be used in rodents. In the present experiments, young and aged rats were cross-characterized on a spatial water maze task and two variants of an object discrimination task: one in which rats incrementally learned which object of a pair was rewarded and different pairs varied in their similarity (Experiment 1), and a second in which rats were tested on their ability to discriminate a learned target object from multiple lure objects with an increasing degree of feature overlap (Experiment 2). In Experiment 1, aged rats required more training than young to correctly discriminate between similar objects. Comparably, in Experiment 2, aged rats were impaired in discriminating a target object from lures when the pair shared more features. Discrimination deficits across experiments were correlated within individual aged rats, though, for the cohort tested, aged rats were not impaired overall in spatial learning and memory. This could suggest discrimination deficits emerging with age precede declines in spatial or episodic memory, an observation that has been made in humans. Findings of robust impairments in object discrimination abilities in the aged rats parallel results from human studies, supporting use of the developed tasks for mechanistic investigation of cortical-hippocampal circuit dysfunction in aging and disease. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


dentate gyrus
object recognition
pattern separation
perirhinal cortex