Cognitive reserve, the brain's capacity to draw on enriching experiences during youth, is believed to protect against memory loss associated with a decline in hippocampal function, as seen in normal aging and neurodegenerative disease. Adult neurogenesis has been suggested as a specific mechanism involved in cognitive (or neurogenic) reserve. The first objective of this study was to compare learning-related neuronal activity in adult-born versus developmentally born hippocampal neurons in juvenile male rats that had engaged in extensive running activity during early development or reared in a standard laboratory environment. The second objective was to investigate the long-term effect of exercise in rats on learning and memory of a contextual fear (CF) response later in adulthood. These aims address the important question as to whether exercise in early life is sufficient to build a reserve that protects against the process of cognitive aging. The results reveal a long-term effect of early running on adult-born dentate granule neurons and a special role for adult-born neurons in contextual memory, in a manner that is consistent with the neurogenic reserve hypothesis.
Keywords: adult neurogenesis; dentate gyrus; hippocampus; learning and memory; plasticity.