Loss of brain function is one of the most negative and feared aspects of aging. Studies of invertebrates have taught us much about the physiology of aging and how this progression may be slowed. Yet, how aging affects complex brain functions, e.g., the ability to acquire new memory when previous experience is no longer valid, is an almost exclusive question of studies in humans and mammalian models. In these systems, age related cognitive disorders are assessed through composite paradigms that test different performance tasks in the same individual. Such studies could demonstrate that afflicted individuals show the loss of several and often-diverse memory faculties, and that performance usually varies more between aged individuals, as compared to conspecifics from younger groups. No comparable composite surveying approaches are established yet for invertebrate models in aging research. Here we test whether an insect can share patterns of decline similar to those that are commonly observed during mammalian brain aging. Using honey bees, we combine restrained learning with free-flight assays. We demonstrate that reduced olfactory learning performance correlates with a reduced ability to extinguish the spatial memory of an abandoned nest location (spatial memory extinction). Adding to this, we show that learning performance is more variable in old honey bees. Taken together, our findings point to generic features of brain aging and provide the prerequisites to model individual aspects of learning dysfunction with insect models.
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