The authors compared the influence of environmental enrichment on intact and lesioned brain, and tested the hypothesis that postischemic exposure to an enriched environment can alter dendritic spine density in pyramidal neurons contralateral to a cortical infarct. The middle cerebral artery was occluded distal to the striatal branches in spontaneously hypertensive rats postoperatively housed either in a standard or in an enriched environment. Intact rats were housed in the same environment. Three weeks later the brains were perfused in situ. The dendritic and spine morphology was studied with three-dimensional confocal laser scanning microscopy after microinjection of Lucifer yellow in pyramidal neurons in layers II/III and V/VI in the somatosensory cortex. In intact rats, the number of dendritic spines was significantly higher in the enriched group than in the standard group in all layers ( P < 0.05). Contralateral to the infarct, pyramidal neurons in layers II/III, which have extensive intracortical connections that may play a role in cortical plasticity, had significantly more spines in the enriched group than in the standard group ( P < 0.05). No difference was observed in layers V/VI. They conclude that housing rats in an enriched environment significantly increases spine density in superficial cortical layers in intact and lesioned brain, but in deeper layers of intact brain.