Environmental enrichment, exercise and corticosterone affect endothelial cell proliferation in adult rat hippocampus and prefrontal cortex

Neurosci Lett. 2008 Sep 19;442(3):203-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2008.06.085. Epub 2008 Jul 9.


Stress and environmental enrichment have opposing effects on cerebral cellular plasticity. Stress-induced disturbances in neuronal and glial plasticity have been implicated in the pathophysiology of affective disorders. Patients with depression often show volume reductions in specific brain regions. The mechanisms behind these changes are not well understood, but animal studies have indicated that increased levels of glucocorticoids and stress have negative impact on the neuronal and glial cell populations. On the contrary, enriched environment and physical activity have positive effects. In this study we have examined the effect of corticosterone (CORT), environmental enrichment (EE) and running on angiogenesis in hippocampus and prefrontal cortex (PFC). We demonstrate a dramatic inhibition in endothelial cell proliferation in these brain regions in CORT-treated rats. Environmental enrichment had the opposite effect and stimulated endothelial cell proliferation both in the hippocampus and in the PFC. Running had a stimulatory effect in hippocampus, but not in the PFC. We suggest that the angiostatic effect of CORT demonstrated in this study might be paralleled in human subjects exposed to high levels of stress hormones for prolonged periods of time. Raised cortisol levels in depressed or old patients could, by reducing endothelial cell formation/turnover, lead to rarefaction and aging of the vascular bed, and as a result, neuronal function could be impaired. It is tempting to speculate that a physically and intellectually active life may protect against stress-induced vascular changes. Therapeutic agents also targeting the cerebral vasculature could consequently constitute a new tool in the combat of stress-related disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Corticosterone / adverse effects*
  • Endothelial Cells / drug effects
  • Endothelial Cells / physiology*
  • Environment*
  • Male
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic / physiology
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal / physiology*
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal / psychology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Corticosterone