Housing environment modulates physiological and behavioral responses to anxiogenic stimuli in trait anxiety male rats

Neuroscience. 2014 Jun 13:270:76-87. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2014.03.060. Epub 2014 Apr 5.


Environmental enrichment can modulate mild and chronic stress, responses to anxiogenic stimuli as well as drug vulnerability in a number of animal models. The current study was designed to examine the impact of postnatal environmental enrichment on selectively bred 4th generation high- (HAn) and low-anxiety (LAn) male rats. After weaning, animals were placed in isolated (IE), social (SE) and enriched environments (EE) (e.g., toys, wheels, ropes, changed weekly). We measured anxiety-like behavior (ALB) on the elevated plus maze (EPM; trial 1 at postnatal day (PND) 46, trial 2 at PND 63), amphetamine (AMPH) (0.5mg/kg, IP)-induced locomotor behavior, basal and post anxiogenic stimuli changes in (1) plasma corticosterone, (2) blood pressure and (3) core body temperature. Initially, animals showed consistent trait differences on EPM with HAn showing more ALB but after 40 days in select housing, HAn rats reared in an EE showed less ALB and diminished AMPH-induced activity compared to HAn animals housed in IE and SE. In the physiological tests, animals housed in EE showed elevated adrenocortical responses to forced novel object exposure but decreased body temperature and blood pressure changes after an air puff stressor. All animals reared in EE and SE had elevated brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)-positive cells in the central amygdala (CeA), CA1 and CA2 hippocampal regions and the caudate putamen, but these differences were most pronounced in HAn rats for CeA, CA1 and CA2. Overall, these findings suggest that environmental enrichment offers benefits for trait anxiety rats including a reduction in behavioral and physiological responses to anxiogenic stimuli and AMPH sensitivity, and these responses correlate with changes in BDNF expression in the central amygdala, hippocampus and the caudate putamen.

Keywords: BDNF; body temperature; central amygdala; elevated plus maze; environmental enrichment; heart rate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amphetamine / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders / chemically induced
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Body Temperature / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Environment
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Housing, Animal*
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Social Isolation*
  • Species Specificity


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Amphetamine
  • Corticosterone