Voluntary exercise alters the cytoarchitecture of the adult dentate gyrus by increasing cellular proliferation, dendritic complexity, and spine density

J Comp Neurol. 2005 May 23;486(1):39-47. doi: 10.1002/cne.20493.


Voluntary exercise produces a dramatic increase in the number of bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU)-positive cells in the adult dentate gyrus (DG); however, it has never been determined whether this increase reflects neurogenic activity or some exercise-induced change in the metabolic processing of systemically injected BrdU. In these experiments, we show that 1) 200 mg/kg is a saturating dose for single injections of BrdU in both control and voluntary exercise animals; 2) there is significantly more cell labeling in animals that exercise when saturating doses of BrdU are employed; 3) high doses of BrdU do not affect the number, appearance, or distribution of labeled cells; 4) voluntary exercise leads to similar increases in the number of cells expressing Ki67, an intrinsic marker of cellular proliferation; 5) both dendritic length and complexity are significantly increased in the DG of animals that exercise; and 6) spine density is significantly greater on dendrites in the DG following voluntary exercise. This study demonstrates that exercise up-regulates neurogenic activity in the DG of adult rats, independently of any putative changes in altered BrdU metabolism, and that it also substantially alters the morphology of dentate granule cell dendrites. The dramatic changes in the cytoarchitecture of the DG induced by voluntary exercise might underlie the enhancement of hippocampal long-term potentiation and hippocampal-dependent memory that our group has previously described. These results suggest that exercise may be an effective component of therapeutic regimes aimed at improving the functioning of individuals with neuropathologies that involve the degradation of cells in the hippocampus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Antimetabolites / metabolism
  • Bromodeoxyuridine / metabolism
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Division / physiology
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology*
  • Dentate Gyrus / cytology*
  • Dentate Gyrus / physiology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Ki-67 Antigen / metabolism
  • Male
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Silver Staining
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Volition / physiology


  • Antimetabolites
  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • Bromodeoxyuridine