Age-related cognitive impairments in mice with a conditional ablation of the neural cell adhesion molecule
Most of the mechanisms involved in neural plasticity support cognition, and aging has a considerable effect on some of these processes. The neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) of the immunoglobulin superfamily plays a pivotal role in structural and functional plasticity and is required to modulate cognitive and emotional behaviors. However, whether aging is associated with NCAM alterations that might contribute to age-related cognitive decline is not currently known. In this study, we determined whether conditional NCAM-deficient mice display increased vulnerability to age-related cognitive and emotional alterations. We assessed the NCAM expression levels in the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and characterized the performance of adult and aged conditional NCAM-deficient mice and their age-matched wild-type littermates in a delayed matching-to-place test in the Morris water maze and a delayed reinforced alternation test in the T-maze. Although aging in wild-type mice is associated with an isoform-specific reduction of NCAM expression levels in the hippocampus and mPFC, these mice exhibited only mild impairments in working/episodic-like memory performance. However, aged conditional NCAM-deficient mice displayed pronounced impairments in both the delayed matching-to-place and the delayed reinforced alternation tests. Importantly, the deficits of aged NCAM-deficient mice in these working/episodic-like memory tasks could not be attributed to increased anxiety-like behaviors or to differences in locomotor activity. Taken together, these data indicate that reduced NCAM expression in the forebrain might be a critical factor for the occurrence of cognitive impairments during aging.