Distinguishing adaptive plasticity from vulnerability in the aging hippocampus

D. T. Gray, C. A. Barnes

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Hippocampal circuits are among the best described networks in the mammalian brain, particularly with regard to the alterations that arise during normal aging. Decades of research indicate multiple points of vulnerability in aging neural circuits, and it has been proposed that each of these changes make a contribution to observed age-related cognitive deficits. Another view has been relatively overlooked - namely that some of these changes arise in adaptive response to protect network function in aged animals. This possibility leads to a rather different view on the biological variation of function in the brain of older individuals. Using the hippocampus as a model neural circuit we discuss how, in normally aged animals, some age-related changes may arise through processes of neural plasticity that serve to enhance network function rather than to hinder it. Conceptually disentangling the initial age-related vulnerabilities from changes that result in adaptive response will be a major challenge for the future research on brain aging. We suggest that a reformulation of how normal aging could be understood from an adaptive perspective will lead to a deeper understanding of the secrets behind successful brain aging and our recent cultural successes in facilitating these processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-28
Number of pages12
StatePublished - Nov 19 2015


  • CA1
  • CA3
  • Dentate gyrus
  • Medial entorhinal cortex
  • Plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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