Short-term environmental enrichment, and not physical exercise, alleviate cognitive decline and anxiety from middle age onwards without affecting hippocampal gene expression

  • Gaurav Singhal
  • Julie Morgan
  • Magdalene C. Jawahar
  • Frances Corrigan
  • Emily J. Jaehne
  • Catherine Toben
  • James Breen
  • Stephen M. Pederson
  • Anthony J. Hannan
  • Bernhard T. BauneEmail author


Physical exercise (PE) and environmental enrichment (EE) have consistently been shown to modulate behavior and neurobiological mechanisms. The current literature lacks evidence to confirm the relationship between PE and EE, if any, and whether short-term treatment with PE, EE, or PE+EE could be considered to correct age-related behavioral deficits. Three-, 8-, and 13-month-old C57BL/6 mice were assigned to either PE, EE, or PE+EE treatment groups (n = 12-16/group) for 4 weeks before behavioral testing and were compared to controls. Differential effects of the treatments on various behaviors and hippocampal gene expression were measured using an established behavioral battery and high-throughput qPCR respectively. Short-term EE enhanced locomotor activity at 9 and 14 months of age, whereas the combination of PE and EE reduced locomotor activity in the home cage at 14 months. Short-term EE also was found to reverse the age-related increase in anxiety at 9 months and spatial memory deficits at 14 months of age. Conversely, short-term PE induced spatial learning impairment and depressive-like behavior at four months but showed no effects in 9- and 14-month-old mice. PE and PE+EE, but not EE, modified the expression of several hippocampal genes at 9 months of age compared with control mice. In conclusion, short-term EE may help to alleviate age-related cognitive decline and increase in anxiety, without altering hippocampal gene expression. On the contrary, PE is detrimental at a young age for both affective-like behaviors and spatial learning and memory but showed no effects at middle and late middle age despite hippocampal gene expression alterations.


Environmental enrichment Exercise Depression Anxiety Cognition Brain Behavior Aging Gene 


Open practices statement

None of the data or materials for the experiments reported here is available online, and none of the experiments was preregistered.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest statement

The presented work is supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council Australia (APP 1043771 to BTB). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gaurav Singhal
    • 1
  • Julie Morgan
    • 1
  • Magdalene C. Jawahar
    • 1
  • Frances Corrigan
    • 2
  • Emily J. Jaehne
    • 1
    • 3
  • Catherine Toben
    • 1
  • James Breen
    • 4
    • 5
  • Stephen M. Pederson
    • 5
  • Anthony J. Hannan
    • 6
  • Bernhard T. Baune
    • 6
    • 7
    • 8
    Email author
  1. 1.Psychiatric Neuroscience Lab, Discipline of PsychiatryUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.Division of Health SciencesUniversity of South AustraliaAdelaideAustralia
  3. 3.School of Psychology and Public HealthLa Trobe University, BundooraMelbourneAustralia
  4. 4.Robinson Research InstituteUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  5. 5.Bioinformatics Hub, School of Biological SciencesUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  6. 6.Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental HealthUniversity of Melbourne, Melbourne Brain CentreMelbourneAustralia
  7. 7.Department of Psychiatry, Melbourne Medical SchoolUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  8. 8.University Hospital Department of Psychiatry and PsychotherapyUniversity of MünsterMünsterGermany

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