Circuit-specific alterations in hippocampal synaptophysin immunoreactivity predict spatial learning impairment in aged rats

Thressa D. Smith, Michelle M. Adams, Michela Gallagher, John Morrison, Peter R. Rapp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

319 Scopus citations


The present study examined the long-standing concept that changes in hippocampal circuitry contribute to age-related learning impairment. Individual differences in spatial learning were documented in young and aged Long-Evans rats by using a hippocampal-dependent version of the Morris water maze. Postmortem analysis used a confocal laser-scanning microscopy method to quantity changes in immunofluorescence staining for the presynaptic vesicle glycoprotein, synaptophysin (SYN), in the principal relays of hippocampal circuitry. Comparisons based on chronological age alone failed to reveal a reliable difference in the intensity of SYN staining in any region that was examined. In contrast, aged subjects with spatial learning deficits displayed significant reductions in SYN immunoreactivity in CA3 lacunosum-moleculare (LM) relative to either young controls or age-matched rats with preserved learning. SYN intensity values for the latter groups were indistinguishable. In addition, individual differences in spatial learning capacity among the aged rats correlated with levels of SYN staining selectively in three regions: Outer and middle portions of the dentate gyrus molecular layer and CA3-LM. The cross-sectional area of SYN labeling, by comparison, was not reliably affected in relation cognitive status. These findings are the first to demonstrate that a circuit-specific pattern of variability in the connectional organization of the hippocampus is coupled to individual differences in the cognitive outcome of normal aging. The regional specificity of these effects suggests that a decline in the fidelity of input to the hippocampus from the entorhinal cortex may play a critical role.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6587-6593
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Circuit organization
  • Entorhinal cortex
  • Hippocampus
  • Morris water maze
  • Spatial learning
  • Synaptophysin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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