Pattern separation deficits may contribute to age-associated recognition impairments

Sara N. Burke, Jenelle L. Wallace, Saman Nematollahi, Ajay R. Uprety, Carol A. Barnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations


Normal aging is associated with impairments in stimulus recognition. In the current investigation, object recognition was tested in adult and aged rats with the standard spontaneous object recognition (SOR) task or two variants of this task. On the standard SOR task, adult rats showed an exploratory preference for the novel object over delays up to 24 h, whereas the aged rats only showed significant novelty discrimination at the 2-min delay. This age difference appeared to be because of the old rats behaving as if the novel object was familiar. To test this hypothesis directly, rats participated in a variant of the SOR task that allowed the exploration times between the object familiarization and the test phases to be compared, and this experiment confirmed that aged rats falsely "recognize" the novel object. A final control examined whether or not aged rats exhibited reduced motivation to explore objects. In this experiment, when the environmental context changed between familiarization and test, young and old rats failed to show an exploratory preference because both age groups spent more time exploring the familiar object. Together these findings support the view that age-related impairments in object recognition arise from old animals behaving as if novel objects are familiar, which is reminiscent of behavioral impairments in young rats with perirhinal cortical lesions. The current experiments thus suggest that alterations in the perirhinal cortex may be responsible for reducing aged animals' ability to distinguish new stimuli from ones that have been encountered previously.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)559-573
Number of pages15
JournalBehavioral Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2010


  • Aging
  • Memory
  • Perception
  • Perirhinal cortex
  • Rat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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