Environmental enrichment enhances autophagy signaling in the rat hippocampus

Brain Res. 2014 Dec 10;1592:113-23. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2014.10.026.


The findings that antidepressive treatments increase hippocampal neurotrophins have led researchers to emphasize the importance of neurogenesis, formation of new dendrites, and survival of neurons in the brain. However, it is difficult to maintain neural plasticity just by enriching the environment to facilitate formation of new networks. Neural plasticity also requires a degradation process that clears off unnecessary and undesirable components. We have recently reported an increase in autophagy signaling (wherein the cell digests components of itself) that has the potential of enhancing neuronal and synaptic plasticity after multiple sessions of electroconvulsive seizure treatment. The present study revealed an increase in autophagy signaling in the rat hippocampus following 2 weeks of environmental enrichment (EE), a procedure known to elicit antidepressive and anxiolytic behavioral changes in various animal paradigms. Western blot analysis showed an increase in hippocampal expression of microtubule-associated protein light chain 3-II (LC3-II), which is lipidated from LC3-I, in rats in the EE group. The effectiveness of the 2-week EE housing condition was validated by anxiolytic effects observed in the elevated plus maze test, enhanced habituation in the open field test, and elevation of hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor expression. In addition, we showed that the EE housing condition ameliorated numbing/avoidance behaviors, but not hypervigilant behaviors, in an animal model of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is the first report to show that EE can increase autophagy signaling and improve numbing/avoidance behaviors in an animal model of PTSD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Electroshock
  • Environment*
  • Escape Reaction / physiology
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology*
  • Housing, Animal*
  • Male
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / metabolism
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • LC3 protein, rat
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins