, Volume 116, Issue 8, pp 1007-1016
Date: 03 Apr 2009

Environmental enrichment, prefrontal cortex, stress, and aging of the brain

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Abstract

As a result of living in an enriched environment, the brain of animals undergoes molecular and morphological changes leading to improvements in learning and memory. These improvements correlate well with increase in neurogenesis, synaptic density, or neurotrophic factors. We review here, in the context of the literature, the experiments performed in our own laboratory on the effects of environmental enrichment on the dynamics of dopamine and acetylcholine in the prefrontal cortex under a situation of acute mild stress. In these last studies we found that the release of dopamine and acetylcholine under stress is reduced in animals housed in an enriched environment. We also reported that the stress-induced release of dopamine but not acetylcholine is lower in aged rats compared with young rats. These results suggest that environmental enrichment reduces the reactivity to stress of the prefrontal dopaminergic and cholinergic systems in the rat. We further hypothesize that the positive effects on stress coping behaviors of housing animals in an enriched environment are associated with reductions, rather than increases, in the release of dopamine and acetylcholine in the prefrontal cortex. Finally we propose that a reduction in the stress-induced release of dopamine observed during aging in control animals might be an index of a better adaptation to stressful stimuli.

Dedicated to the special issue on Brain Plasticity, Prof. Fuxe.