Untangling the influences of voluntary running, environmental complexity, social housing and stress on adult hippocampal neurogenesis

PLoS One. 2014 Jan 23;9(1):e86237. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0086237. eCollection 2014.


Environmental enrichment (EE) exerts powerful effects on brain physiology, and is widely used as an experimental and therapeutic tool. Typical EE paradigms are multifactorial, incorporating elements of physical exercise, environmental complexity, social interactions and stress, however the specific contributions of these variables have not been separable using conventional housing paradigms. Here, we evaluated the impacts of these individual variables on adult hippocampal neurogenesis by using a novel "Alternating EE" paradigm. For 4 weeks, adult male CD1 mice were alternated daily between two enriched environments; by comparing groups that differed in one of their two environments, the individual and combinatorial effects of EE variables could be resolved. The Alternating EE paradigm revealed that (1) voluntary running for 3 days/week was sufficient to increase both mitotic and post-mitotic stages of hippocampal neurogenesis, confirming the central importance of exercise; (2) a complex environment (comprised of both social interactions and rotated inanimate objects) had no effect on neurogenesis itself, but enhanced depolarization-induced c-Fos expression (attributable to social interactions) and buffered stress-induced plasma corticosterone levels (attributable to inanimate objects); and (3) neither social isolation, group housing, nor chronically increased levels of plasma corticosterone had a prolonged impact on neurogenesis. Mouse strain, handling and type of running apparatus were tested and excluded as potential confounding factors. These findings provide valuable insights into the relative effects of key EE variables on adult neurogenesis, and this "Alternating EE" paradigm represents a useful tool for exploring the contributions of individual EE variables to mechanisms of neural plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Dentate Gyrus / metabolism
  • Dentate Gyrus / pathology
  • Dentate Gyrus / physiopathology*
  • Environment
  • Gene Expression
  • Housing, Animal
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurogenesis*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Running*
  • Social Behavior
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / pathology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • Corticosterone

Grants and funding

Funding was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.