Sara Burke, University of Florida

Working Towards a Systems-level Understanding of Cognitive Aging
Friday, September 1, 2017 - 3:30pm

Sara N. Burke, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Neuroscience
Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute, Research on Cognitive Aging and Memory

No single neurobiological deficit can account for the wide spectrum of cognitive changes observed in old age. In fact, adaptive behavior is supported by neural networks distributed across multiple brain regions, which renders the identification of a locus of dysfunction untenable. For example, episodic memory, which involves the integration of sensory stimuli with a spatial location, exhibits significant declines in older adults and other animals and requires interactions between medial temporal lobe areas and other neocortical structures. Specifically, the neural circuitry that supports memory includes the hippocampus (HPC), prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the perirhinal cortex (PER). The HPC is critically involved in spatial reference memory, while the PER is necessary for object recognition, and the PFC is critical for executive functions. While all of these areas exhibit age-associated dysfunction, declines within the PFC, PER or HPC are often not correlated. Thus, it is unknown how aging impacts behaviors that require PFC-PER-HPC interactions. This talk will discuss recent data that indicate behaviors that relay on communication between the PFC, PER and HPC are particularly vulnerable in aging. Moreover, age-related deficits can be modeled in young animals by “disconnecting” these areas of the brain from each other. Collectively, these data support an emerging framework that behaviors requiring communication between structures may be particularly susceptible to the aging process, as local dysfunction may propagate, leading to global communication deficits across the memory circuit.


Funding provided by McKnight Brain Research Foundation, University of Florida Research Seed Opportunity Fund, and National Institute on Aging (R01AG049722, R03AG049411, and R21AG051004)