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Memory, cognitive flexibility, and ageing

People born between 1946 and 1964 (‘‘baby boomers’’) are entering retirement in large numbers. This has major implications both for the individuals and for society.

Aims

This project aims to investigate whether chronic exercise in middle-aged mice can improve extinction and/or reinstatement of conditioned fear compared to standard housing.

One serious consequence is natural changes in the brain that accompany ageing, especially in a region called the hippocampus. This structure is known to play an important role in memory formation and storage, and is vulnerable to damage throughout life. It is well-known that regular exercise can support the formation of new brain cells in the hippocampus, and this has implications for learning and cognition.

In fact, the hippocampus is critical for cognitive flexibility involved in the inhibition (extinction) of conditioned fear, as well as the reinstatement of fear following extinction learning.

Results so far show that while aged mice display decreased cognitive flexibility compared to younger mice, exercise can be beneficial for reducing natural cognitive decline even when a change in lifestyle occurs later in life.

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