Hippocampal neurogenesis continues into adulthood in mammalian vertebrates, and in experimental rodent models it is powerfully stimulated by exposure to a voluntary running wheel. In this study, we demonstrate that exposure to a running wheel environment, in the absence of running, is sufficient to regulate specific aspects of hippocampal neurogenesis. Adult mice were provided with standard housing, housing enriched with a running wheel or housing enriched with a locked wheel (i.e., an environment comparable to that of running animals, without the possibility of engaging in running). We found that mice in the running wheel and locked wheel groups exhibited equivalent increases in proliferation within the neurogenic niche of the dentate gyrus; this included comparable increases in the proliferation of radial glia-like stem cells and the number of proliferating neuroblasts. However, only running animals displayed increased numbers of postmitotic neuroblasts and mature neurons. These results demonstrate that the running wheel environment itself is sufficient for promoting proliferation of early lineage hippocampal precursors, while running per se enables newly generated neuroblasts to survive and mature into functional hippocampal neurons. Thus, both running-independent and running-dependent stimuli are integral to running wheel-induced hippocampal neurogenesis.
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