In human beings and animal models, cognitive performance is often impaired in natural and experimental situations where circadian rhythms are disrupted. This includes a general decline in cognitive ability and fragmentation of behavioural rhythms in the aging population of numerous species. There is some evidence that rhythm disruption may lead directly to cognitive impairment; however, this causal link has not been made for effects due to aging. We have tested this link by examining rhythms and performance on contextual conditioning with the conditioned place preference task, in elderly, age-matched hamsters. Young healthy hamsters developed a preference for a context that is paired with the opportunity to engage in wheel-running (experiment 1). Aged animals with consolidated locomotor rhythms developed similar degrees of preference, whereas the age-matched hamsters with fragmented rhythms did not (experiment 2). The degree of preference was also correlated with activity amplitude. These results support the notion that age-related rhythm fragmentation contributes to the age-related memory decline. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.
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