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Prefrontal cholinergic overload and attentional capacities in aging

Yegla B, Kelbaugh A, Mookhtiar A, Parikh V (2014) Prefrontal cholinergic overload and attentional capacities in aging. Neuroscience 2014 Abstracts 211.25. Society for Neuroscience, Washington, DC.

Summary: The cognitive reserve hypothesis of aging posits that brain activity attempts to cope with functional age-related changes. Individuals with lower cognitive reserve are considered more susceptible to cognitive decline and age-related pathologies. However, what neuronal mechanisms underlie cognitive reserve, and how these mechanisms provide compensation for age-related decline in attentional capacities remains unknown. The basal forebrain cortical cholinergic input system is a critical component of the brain’s attentional system. Healthy older adults show attentional load-dependent posterior-anterior shift in aging (PASA) characterized by higher activation of the prefrontal regions. However, it is not known whether prefrontal cortex (PFC)-driven cholinergic mechanisms compensate for age-related decline in attentional capacities. Here, we investigated the impact of partial cholinergic deafferentation of the PFC on attentional capacities in young and aged rats. The impact of cholinergic depletion on neuronal activation in the PFC and posterior parietal cortex (PPC) was also investigated using a semi-quantitiative c-fos immunohistochemistry procedure. Young and aged rats were trained in an operant sustained attention task (SAT) that required the animals to distinguish between signal and non-signal events to attain a reward. After attaining criterion (70% correct responses on both trial types), animals either received bilateral infusions of 192-IgG saporin or sterile saline into the PFC and the performance was monitored for 4 weeks. Aged rats required more training sessions to acquire criterion than young rats. However, post-criterion performance prior to lesion surgeries remained similar between the two age groups. Saline-infused aged rats show a greater number of c-fos expressing cells in the PFC but not PPC as compared to the young animals. Restricted loss of prefrontal cholinergic inputs produced attentional impairments in aged rats (SAT scores: 0.43±0.08 vs. 0.63±0.05 in young lesioned rats). Moreover, lesioned aged rats show reduced c-fos positive counts in the PFC as compared to aged intact rats. Collectively, these data suggest that PASA shifts and prefrontal overload foster top-down processes to maintain attentional capacities in aging. Moreover, these compensatory processes are triggered by prefrontal cholinergic inputs.

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