Cognitive training of mice attenuates age-related decline in associative learning and behavioral flexibility

Dalia Attalla, Alexej Schatz, Katharina Stumpenhorst, York Winter

Identifying factors that influence age-related cognitive decline is crucial, given its severe personal and societal impacts. However, studying aging in human or animal models is challenging due to the significant variability in aging processes among individuals. Additionally, longitudinal and cross-sectional studies often produce differing results. In this context, home-cage-based behavioral analysis over lifespans has emerged as a significant method in recent years. This study aimed to explore how prior experience affects cognitive performance in mice of various age groups (4, 12, and 22 months) using a home-cage-based touchscreen test battery. In this automated system, group-housed, ID-chipped mice primarily obtain their food during task performance throughout the day, motivated by their own initiative, without being subjected to food deprivation. Spatial working memory and attention were evaluated using the trial unique non-matching to location (TUNL) and the five-choice serial reaction time task (5-CSRTT), respectively. The same set of mice learned both of these demanding tasks. While signs of cognitive decline were already apparent in middle-aged mice, older mice exhibited poorer performance in both tasks. Mice at both 12 and 22 months displayed an increase in perseverance and a decrease in the percentage of correct responses in the TUNL test compared to the 4-month-old mice. Furthermore, during the 5-CSRTT, they exhibited higher rates of omissions and premature responses compared to their younger counterparts. Additionally, the correct response rate in 22-month-old mice was lower than that of the 4-month-old ones. However, mice that had undergone cognitive training at 4 months maintained high-performance levels when re-tested at 12 months, showing an increase in correct responses during TUNL testing compared to their untrained controls. In the 5-CSRTT, previously trained mice demonstrated higher correct response rates, fewer omissions, and reduced premature responses compared to naive control mice. Notably, even when assessed on a visual discrimination and behavioral flexibility task at 22 months, experienced mice outperformed naive 4-month-old mice. These findings highlight the advantages of early-life cognitive training and suggest that its benefits extend beyond the cognitive domains primarily targeted during early training. The success of this study was significantly aided by the fully automated home-cage-based testing system, which allows for high throughput with minimal human intervention.

Front Behav Neurosci. 18:1326501 (2024)


attentionhome-cage-based testingID-based sorterreversal learningspatial working memorytouchscreen operant chamber
Share the article

Participating Institutions