Ramírez-Rodríguez, G. B., Gutiérrez-Vera, B., Ortiz-López, L. et al. 2022. Environmental enrichment: Dissociated effects between physical activity and changing environmental complexity on anxiety and neurogenesis in adult male Balb/C mice. Physiology & Behavior 254, 113878.
Several factors, including environmental modifications, stimulate neuroplasticity. One type of neuroplasticity consists in the generation of new neurons in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. Neurogenesis is modulated by environmental enrichment (ENR, tunnels plus running wheel) and affected by the time of exposure to ENR. Despite the wide use of ENR to stimulate neuroplasticity, the degree to which ENR variations modeled by temporally changing the level of environmental complexity affect hippocampal neurogenesis and anxiety is still unclear. Thus, we investigated the effects of five housing conditions on young adult male Balb/C mice exposed for 42 days. The groups were as follows: standard conditions without ENR, constant ENR complexity, gradual increase of ENR complexity followed by a gradual decrease of ENR complexity, gradual increase of ENR complexity followed by constant ENR complexity, and constant ENR complexity followed by a gradual decrease of ENR complexity. On day 44, mice were exposed to the elevated plus-maze to evaluate anxiety. Further, we analyzed neurogenesis and quantified corticosterone levels. In an additional experiment, we explored the effect of voluntary physical activity on anxiety, neurogenesis, and corticosterone during the variations in ENR complexity. Our results showed that any change in ENR complexity over time reduced anxiety. Also, voluntary physical activity alone or in the context of a complex environment increased doublecortin cell maturation in the granular cell layer of the hippocampus. Finally, our study supports that physical activity acts proneurogenic, whereas any change in environmental complexity decreases anxiety-like behavior. However, the decrease in corticosterone levels elicited by physical activity was lower than the decrease produced by the decrement in environmental complexity.