Adult animals continue to modify their behavior throughout life, a process that is highly influenced by past experiences. To shape behavior, specific mechanisms of neural plasticity to learn, remember, and recall information are required. One of the most robust examples of adult plasticity in the brain occurs in the dentate gyrus (DG) of the hippocampus, through the process of adult neurogenesis. Adult neurogenesis is strongly upregulated by external factors such as voluntary wheel running (RUN) and environmental enrichment (EE); however, the functional differences between these two factors remain unclear. Although both manipulations result in increased neurogenesis, RUN dramatically increases the proliferation of newborn cells and EE promotes their survival. We hypothesize that the method by which these newborn neurons are induced influences their functional role. Furthermore, we examine how EE-induced neurons may be primed to encode and recognize features of novel environments due to their previous enrichment experience. Here, we gave mice a challenging contextual fear-conditioning (FC) procedure to tease out the behavioral differences between RUN-induced neurogenesis and EE-induced neurogenesis. Despite the robust increases in neurogenesis seen in the RUN mice, we found that only EE mice were able to discriminate between similar contexts in this task, indicating that EE mice might use a different cognitive strategy when processing contextual information. Furthermore, we showed that this improvement was dependent on EE-induced neurogenesis, suggesting a fundamental functional difference between RUN-induced neurogenesis and EE-induced neurogenesis.
Keywords: environment; exercise; fear-conditioning; irradiation; neurogenesis.
© 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.