Analysis of learning deficits in aged rats on the W-track continuous spatial alternation task.

Young and aged animals were tested on a spatial alternation task that consisted of two interleaved components: (1) an “outbound” or alternation component (working memory) and (2) an “inbound” component, requiring the animal to remember to return to a central location in space (spatial memory). In the present study, aged rats made more outbound errors throughout testing, resulting in significantly more days to reach learning criterion, as compared to young rats. Furthermore, while all animals were able to learn the hippocampus-dependent inbound component of the task, most aged animals remained just above chance on the outbound component, even after extended testing days. Aged rats may be more impaired on the outbound part of the task because it requires cooperation of both the hippocampus and mPFC, each of which is compromised with age. In addition to presenting these results, we compare one commonly used analysis (repeated measures ANOVA) and two less common hierarchical modeling techniques (hierarchical generalized linear model and state-space random effects model) to determine the best method for comparing population learning over time. We found that hierarchical modeling is the most appropriate for this task and that a state-space model better captures the behavioral responses. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)