Cognitive stimulation during lifetime and in the aged phase improved spatial memory, and altered neuroplasticity and cholinergic markers of mice

Author(s): Baraldi T, Schöwe NM, Balthazar J, Monteiro-Silva KC, Albuquerque MS, et al.


In the central nervous system, the degree of decline in memory retrieval along the aging process depends on the quantity and quality of the stimuli received during lifetime. The cholinergic system modulates long-term potentiation and, therefore, memory processing. This study evaluated the spatial memory, the synaptic plasticity and the density of cholinergic markers in the hippocampi of mice submitted to cognitive stimulation during lifetime or during their aged phase. Male C57Bl/6 mice (2 months old) were exposed to enriched environment during 15 months (EE-15). An age-matched group was left in standard cages during the same period (SC-15). Spatial memory was evaluated using the Barnes maze at 2, 5, 11 and 17 months of age. At the 17-month-old time point, EE-15 mice showed better performance in the spatial memory task (P<0.05), when compared to C-15 mice. Other two groups of mice were left in regular cages until the age of 15 months, and then one of the groups was transferred to an enriched environment for two months (EE-2). The other group was kept in regular cages (C-2). After two months of stimulation, EE-2 showed a significant increase in spatial memory (P<0.01). At the end, brains were extracted and kept at -80°C. Slices were obtained from one hemisphere in a cryostat (20 μm, -18°C) and thaw-mounted on gelatin coated slides. Synaptic densities, cellular bodies, BDNF densities and α4β2 nicotinic cholinergic receptors (nAChR) were evaluated by immunohistochemistry. Autoradiography for α7 nAChR was conducted using [(125)I]-α-bungarotoxin. The other half of the brains was used for Western blotting analysis of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) density. There was no difference in synaptophysin or MAP-2 densities, but BDNF was increased in some hippocampal areas of EE-15 and EE-2, in comparison to control groups. In the same way, increases in ChAT and α7 densities, but not in α4β2, were observed. Both cognitive stimuli during lifetime or during the aged phase improved spatial memory of mice. No difference in structural plasticity was observed, but the maintenance of memory can be due to improvement in long-term potentiation functionality in the hippocampus, modulated, at least, by BDNF and the cholinergic system.

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