Hippocampal interneuron populations are reportedly vulnerable to normal aging. The relationship between interneuron network integrity and age-related memory impairment, however, has not been tested directly. That question was addressed in the present study using a well-characterized model in which outbred, aged, male Long-Evans rats exhibit a spectrum of individual differences in hippocampal-dependent memory. Selected interneuron populations in the hippocampus were visualized for stereological quantification with a panel of immunocytochemical markers, including glutamic acid decarboxylase-67 (GAD67), somatostatin, and neuropeptide Y. The overall pattern of results was that, although the numbers of GAD67- and somatostatin-positive interneurons declined with age across multiple fields of the hippocampus, alterations specifically related to the cognitive outcome of aging were observed exclusively in the hilus of the dentate gyrus. Because the total number of NeuN-immunoreactive hilar neurons was unaffected, the decline observed with other markers likely reflects a loss of target protein rather than neuron death. In support of that interpretation, treatment with the atypical antiepileptic levetiracetam at a low dose shown previously to improve behavioral performance fully restored hilar SOM expression in aged, memory-impaired rats. Age-related decreases in GAD67- and somatostatin-immunoreactive neuron number beyond the hilus were regionally selective and spared the CA1 field of the hippocampus entirely. Together these findings confirm the vulnerability of hippocampal interneurons to normal aging and highlight that the integrity of a specific subpopulation in the hilus is coupled with age-related memory impairment.
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