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Keywords:

  • feed-forward inhibition;
  • gamma-amino-butyric-acid;
  • hyperexcitability;
  • inhibitory neurons;
  • interneuron degeneration;
  • optical fractionator

Abstract

Increased excitability of principal excitatory neurons is one of the hallmarks of aging in the hippocampus, signifying a diminution in the number and/or function of inhibitory interneurons with aging. To elucidate this, we performed comprehensive GABA-ergic interneuron cell counts in all layers of the dentate gyrus and the CA1 and CA3 subfields, using serial sections from adult, middle-aged and aged Fischer 344 rats. Sections were immunostained for glutamate decarboxylase-67 (GAD-67, a synthesizing enzyme of GABA) and GAD-67 immunopositive interneurons were counted using an unbiased cell counting method, the optical fractionator. Substantial declines in the absolute number of GAD-67 immunopositive interneurons were found in all hippocampal layers/subfields of middle-aged and aged animals, in comparison with the adult animals. However, the counts were comparable between the middle-aged and aged groups for all regions. Interestingly, determination of the absolute number of interneurons using neuron-specific nuclear antigen (NeuN) expression in the strata oriens and radiatum of CA1 and CA3 subfields revealed an analogous number of interneurons across the three age groups. Furthermore, the ratio of GAD-67 immunopositive and NeuN positive interneurons decreased from adult age to middle age but remained relatively static between middle age and old age. Collectively, the results underscore that aging in the hippocampus is associated with wide-ranging decreases in the number of GAD-67 immunopositive interneurons and most of the age-related changes in GAD-67 immunopositive interneuron numbers transpire by middle age. Additionally, this study provides novel evidence that age-related reductions in hippocampal GAD-67 immunopositive interneuron numbers are due to loss of GAD-67 expression in interneurons rather than interneuron degeneration.