Nurturing brain plasticity: impact of environmental enrichment

Cell Death Differ. 2010 Jul;17(7):1092-103. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2009.193. Epub 2009 Dec 18.


Environmental enrichment (EE) is known to profoundly affect the central nervous system (CNS) at the functional, anatomical and molecular level, both during the critical period and during adulthood. Recent studies focusing on the visual system have shown that these effects are associated with the recruitment of previously unsuspected neural plasticity processes. At early stages of brain development, EE triggers a marked acceleration in the maturation of the visual system, with maternal behaviour acting as a fundamental mediator of the enriched experience in both the foetus and the newborn. In adult brain, EE enhances plasticity in the cerebral cortex, allowing the recovery of visual functions in amblyopic animals. The molecular substrate of the effects of EE on brain plasticity is multi-factorial, with reduced intracerebral inhibition, enhanced neurotrophin expression and epigenetic changes at the level of chromatin structure. These findings shed new light on the potential of EE as a non-invasive strategy to ameliorate deficits in the development of the CNS and to treat neurological disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Central Nervous System / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Environment*
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*