Environmental enrichment ameliorates perinatal brain injury and promotes functional white matter recovery

Nat Commun. 2020 Feb 19;11(1):964. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-14762-7.


Hypoxic damage to the developing brain due to preterm birth causes many anatomical changes, including damage to the periventricular white matter. This results in the loss of glial cells, significant disruptions in myelination, and thereby cognitive and behavioral disabilities seen throughout life. Encouragingly, these neurological morbidities can be improved by environmental factors; however, the underlying cellular mechanisms remain unknown. We found that early and continuous environmental enrichment selectively enhances endogenous repair of the developing white matter by promoting oligodendroglial maturation, myelination, and functional recovery after perinatal brain injury. These effects require increased exposure to socialization, physical activity, and cognitive enhancement of surroundings-a complete enriched environment. Using RNA-sequencing, we identified oligodendroglial-specific responses to hypoxic brain injury, and uncovered molecular mechanisms involved in enrichment-induced recovery. Together, these results indicate that myelin plasticity induced by modulation of the neonatal environment can be targeted as a therapeutic strategy for preterm birth.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Brain Injuries / pathology
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology
  • Brain Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Environment*
  • Hypoxia / pathology
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Myelin Sheath / physiology
  • Neuroprotection*
  • Oligodendroglia / cytology
  • Oligodendroglia / metabolism
  • Oligodendroglia / physiology
  • RNA-Seq
  • Recovery of Function
  • White Matter / cytology
  • White Matter / injuries
  • White Matter / metabolism
  • White Matter / physiology*