Complex housing has been used widely as a model of experience-dependent change. Animals housed in complex environments typically show synaptogenesis throughout the sensory and motor cortex as well as the striatum and hippocampus, and thus it is generally assumed that such changes are likely to be found throughout the cerebrum. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether persistent alterations of dendritic morphology would be found in two regions that had previously not been examined, namely, the medial prefrontal region (Cg3) and nucleus accumbens (NAcc). The results show that housing female rats in complex environments for 3.5 months increased dendritic arborization on medium spiny neurons in the NAcc and on pyramidal cells in the somatosensory cortex (Par 1), but not in Cg3. Environmental complexity increased spine density in all three areas, however. The failure to find increased dendritic length or branching in Cg3 was unexpected. Thus, the data suggest that complex housing may not engage prefrontal neurons in the same manner as neurons in sensory or motor areas. It appears that complex housing may not produce generalized changes in cerebral morphology. The data further suggest that it is prudent to measure both dendritic length and spine density in studies of experience-dependent effects on synaptic plasticity.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.