A rat dementia model with cognitive deficits was generated by synapse-specific lesions using botulinum neurotoxin (BoNTx) type B in the entorhinal cortex. To detect cognitive deficits, different tasks were needed depending upon the age of the model animals. Impaired learning and memory with lesions were observed in adult rats using the Hebb-Williams maze, AKON-1 maze and a continuous alternation task in T-maze. Cognitive deficits in lesioned aged rats were detected by a continuous alternation and delayed non-matching-to-sample tasks in T-maze. Adenovirus-mediated BDNF gene expression enhanced neuronal plasticity, as revealed by behavioral tests and LTP formation. Chronic administration of carnitine over time pre- and post-lesions seemed to partially ameliorate the cognitive deficits caused by the synaptic lesion. The carnitine-accelerated recovery from synaptic damage was observed by electron microscopy. These results demonstrate that the BoNTx-lesioned rat can be used as a model for dementia and that cognitive deficits can be alleviated in part by BDNF gene transfer or carnitine administration. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.