Neurobiology of the aging dog
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- Head, E. AGE (2011) 33: 485. doi:10.1007/s11357-010-9183-3
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Aged canines naturally accumulate several types of neuropathology that may have links to cognitive decline. On a gross level, significant cortical atrophy occurs with age along with an increase in ventricular volume based on magnetic resonance imaging studies. Microscopically, there is evidence of select neuron loss and reduced neurogenesis in the hippocampus of aged dogs, an area critical for intact learning and memory. The cause of neuronal loss and dysfunction may be related to the progressive accumulation of toxic proteins, oxidative damage, cerebrovascular pathology, and changes in gene expression. For example, aged dogs naturally accumulate human-type beta-amyloid peptide, a protein critically involved with the development of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Further, oxidative damage to proteins, DNA/RNA and lipids occurs with age in dogs. Although less well explored in the aged canine brain, neuron loss, and cerebrovascular pathology observed with age are similar to human brain aging and may also be linked to cognitive decline. Interestingly, the prefrontal cortex appears to be particularly vulnerable early in the aging process in dogs and this may be reflected in dysfunction in specific cognitive domains with age.