Enrichment and photoperiod interact to affect spatial learning and hippocampal dendritic morphology in white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus)

Eur J Neurosci. 2009 Jan;29(1):161-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2008.06570.x.


In seasonally changing environments, individuals must coordinate endogenous processes with ambient conditions. Winter is a challenging time to survive and reproduce. In order to anticipate decreased food availability and low temperatures in winter, many rodents use decreasing day lengths as a precise temporal cue. Short day lengths alter several adaptations, including reproduction, immune function, aggressive behavior and spatial learning in non-tropical rodents. Specifically, short days impair spatial learning in white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) and alter dendritic complexity in the hippocampus. The goal of the current study was to determine whether short days constrain neural plasticity. If short days limit the capacity for plasticity, then environmental enrichment, a manipulation that induces morphological changes, should alter dendritic morphology in long, but not short, days. Male white-footed mice were assigned to long (16 : 8 LD) or short (8 : 16 LD) photoperiod in either enriched or standard cages. Enrichment consisted of a large cage, cage mates, Habitrail tubes, a nest box and a running wheel. Mice were tested in the Morris water maze. Reproductive tissues were collected and weighed; brains were processed for dendritic morphology. Short days impaired spatial learning. Short days also reduced spine density on apical dendrites within the CA3 region of the hippocampus. However, enrichment prevented short-day-induced deficits in learning and also increased hippocampal spine density in the CA1 and CA3 regions in short-day mice. These results suggest that day length and other non-photic environmental factors interact to regulate dendritic morphology, and that short photoperiods do not constrain the capacity for functional neural plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology
  • Dendritic Spines / ultrastructure
  • Environment
  • Environment, Controlled
  • Hibernation / physiology
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Orientation / physiology
  • Peromyscus / anatomy & histology
  • Peromyscus / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Photoperiod*
  • Sensation / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology