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Factor analysis of attentional set-shifting performance in young and aged mice


Abstract Background Executive dysfunction may play a major role in cognitive decline with aging because frontal lobe structures are particularly vulnerable to advancing age. Lesion studies in rats and mice have suggested that intradimensional shifts (IDSs), extradimensional shifts (EDSs), and reversal learning are mediated by the anterior cingulate cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, and the orbitofrontal cortex, respectively. We hypothesized that the latent structure of cognitive performance would reflect functional localization in the brain and would be altered by aging. Methods Young (4 months, n = 16) and aged (23 months, n = 18) C57BL/6N mice performed an attentional set-shifting task (ASST) that evaluates simple discrimination (SD), compound discrimination (CD), IDS, EDS, and reversal learning. The performance data were subjected to an exploratory factor analysis to extract the latent structures of ASST performance in young and aged mice. Results The factor analysis extracted two- and three-factor models. In the two-factor model, the factor associated with SD and CD was clearly separated from the factor associated with the rest of the ASST stages in the young mice only. In the three-factor model, the SD and CD loaded on distinct factors. The three-factor model also showed a separation of factors associated with IDS, EDS, and CD reversal. However, the other reversal learning variables, ID reversal and ED reversal, had somewhat inconsistent factor loadings. Conclusions The separation of performance factors in aged mice was less clear than in young mice, which suggests that aged mice utilize neuronal networks more broadly for specific cognitive functions. The result that the factors associated with SD and CD were separated in the three-factor model may suggest that the introduction of an irrelevant or distracting dimension results in the use of a new/orthogonal strategy for better discrimination.

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