Short-term environmental enrichment is sufficient to counter stress-induced anxiety and associated structural and molecular plasticity in basolateral amygdala

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016 Jul;69:189-96. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.04.009. Epub 2016 Apr 11.


Moderate levels of anxiety enable individual animals to cope with stressors through avoidance, and could be an adaptive trait. However, repeated stress exacerbates anxiety to pathologically high levels. Dendritic remodeling in the basolateral amygdala is proposed to mediate potentiation of anxiety after stress. Similarly, modulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor is thought to be important for the behavioral effects of stress. In the present study, we investigate if relatively short periods of environmental enrichment in adulthood can confer resilience against stress-induced anxiety and concomitant changes in neuronal arborisation and brain derived neurotrophic factor within basolateral amygdala. Two weeks of environmental enrichment countermanded the propensity of increased anxiety following chronic immobilization stress. Environmental enrichment concurrently reduced dendritic branching and spine density of projection neurons of the basolateral amygdala. Moreover, stress increased abundance of BDNF mRNA in the basolateral amygdala in agreement with the dendritic hypertrophy post-stress and role of BDNF in promoting dendritic arborisation. In contrast, environmental enrichment prevented stress-induced rise in the BDNF mRNA abundance. Gain in body weights and adrenal weights remained unaffected by exposure to environmental enrichment. These observations suggest that a short period of environmental enrichment can provide resilience against maladaptive effects of stress on hormonal, neuronal and molecular mediators of anxiogenesis.

Keywords: Anxiety; Basolateral amygdala; Corticosterone; Environmental enrichment; Plasticity; Resilience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / metabolism
  • Amygdala / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Anxiety / metabolism
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism
  • Dendrites / metabolism
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology
  • Environment
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Stress, Psychological


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor