Therapeutic effects of environmental enrichment on cognitive function and tissue integrity following severe traumatic brain injury in rats

Exp Neurol. 2001 Apr;168(2):373-84. doi: 10.1006/exnr.2000.7623.


Postinjury environmental enrichment (EE) has been shown to alter functional and anatomical outcomes in a number of injury paradigms, including traumatic brain injury (TBI). The question of whether EE alters functional outcome following TBI in a model which produces overt histopathological consequences has not been addressed. We investigated this question using the severe, parasagittal fluid percussion injury (FPI) model. Rats (n = 7 per group, enriched and standard for behavior; n = 15 per group for histology) underwent severe (2.2-2.6 atm) FPI, with sham-operated rats (n = 7 per group, enriched and standard for behavior; n = 6 enriched, n = 3 standard for histology) serving as controls. Animals were allowed to recover for 11 days either in standard single housing or together (injured and sham) in an enriched environment consisting of a 92 x 61 x 77-cm ferret cage filled with various stimulatory objects. Consistent with earlier reports, injured animals recovering in the enriched environment showed significantly (P < 0.05) shorter latencies to find the platform in a Morris Water Maze task versus injured/standard animals on day 12 post-TBI. However, both injured groups showed significant deficits versus sham groups (P < 0.05). There were no differences between the sham/enriched and sham/standard groups. No significant group differences in swim speed were observed. At 14 days post-TBI, enriched animals had approximately twofold smaller lesion areas in regions of the cerebral cortex posterior to the injury epicenter (-4.5, -5.8, -6.8 mm relative to bregma; P < 0.05) compared to injured/standard animals. In addition, overall lesion volume for the entire injured cortical hemisphere was significantly smaller in animals recovering in the enriched environment. These results indicate that noninvasive environmental stimulation is beneficial in attenuating cognitive deficits and preserving tissue integrity in a TBI model which causes cerebral contusion and cell death.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Injuries / pathology
  • Brain Injuries / therapy*
  • Cerebral Cortex / injuries
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Social Environment*