Age-related and laminar-specific dendritic changes in the medial frontal cortex of the rat.
Early hypotheses that normal brain aging involves widespread loss of neurons have been revised in light of accumulating evidence that, in most regions of the brain, the number of neurons is stable throughout adulthood and senescence. It is not clear, however, that all aspects of neuronal structure are similarly maintained, and anatomical changes are likely to contribute to age-related declines in cognitive function. The extent and pattern of dendritic branches is one likely target for age-dependent regulation since dendrites remain plastic into adulthood and since dendrites, as the site of most synapses, critically regulate neuronal function. This study quantified the dendritic extent and geometry of superficial and deep pyramidal neurons in the medial frontal cortex of Brown Norway rats from young adulthood through senescence. This region of cortex is of specific interest given its involvement in a variety of cognitive functions that change with age. In the present study, age-related changes in dendritic extent were found to occur with remarkable specificity. Superficial, but not deep, pyramidal neurons exhibited ongoing dendritic growth after 2 months-of-age and then dendritic regression after 18 months-of-age. Apical and basal dendrites were similarly regulated; in each arbor adult growth and regression were limited to terminal dendritic segments. The focal specificity of age-related changes suggests several possible regulatory mechanisms, including regional changes in trophic support and in neuronal activity. Although restricted to specific neuronal populations, dendritic regression in aged animals is likely to contribute to cognitive changes associated with senescence.
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