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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2016, Article ID 1801979, 18 pages
Research Article

Pairing Cholinergic Enhancement with Perceptual Training Promotes Recovery of Age-Related Changes in Rat Primary Auditory Cortex

Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 2B4

Received 20 August 2015; Accepted 25 October 2015

Academic Editor: Aage R. Moller

Copyright © 2016 Patrice Voss et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


We used the rat primary auditory cortex (A1) as a model to probe the effects of cholinergic enhancement on perceptual learning and auditory processing mechanisms in both young and old animals. Rats learned to perform a two-tone frequency discrimination task over the course of two weeks, combined with either the administration of a cholinesterase inhibitor or saline. We found that while both age groups learned the task more quickly through cholinergic enhancement, the young did so by improving target detection, whereas the old did so by inhibiting erroneous responses to nontarget stimuli. We also found that cholinergic enhancement led to marked functional and structural changes within A1 in both young and old rats. Importantly, we found that several functional changes observed in the old rats, particularly those relating to the processing and inhibition of nontargets, produced cortical processing features that resembled those of young untrained rats more so than those of older adult rats. Overall, these findings demonstrate that combining auditory training with neuromodulation of the cholinergic system can restore many of the auditory cortical functional deficits observed as a result of normal aging and add to the growing body of evidence demonstrating that many age-related perceptual and neuroplastic changes are reversible.