Environmental enrichment and its influence on rodent offspring and maternal behaviours, a scoping style review of indices of depression and anxiety

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2020 Oct:197:172997. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2020.172997. Epub 2020 Jul 20.


Environmental enrichment is a widely used experimental manipulation that consistently shows measurable effects on rodent behaviour across the lifespan. This scoping review assesses and thematically summarizes the literature of the past decade concerning the effects of environmental enrichment applied during sensitive developmental periods in rodent mothers and offspring. Maternal behaviours as well as maternal and offspring anxiety- and depressive-like behaviours are considered. Relevant terms were searched across five databases (Embase, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, PubMed, Web of Science) and articles were screened with inclusion and exclusion criteria. The remaining articles were thematically analysed. Our results suggest that a greater number of articles reviewed the impacts of environmental enrichment on offspring anxiety-like behaviour (n = 23) rather than on depressive-like behaviour (n = 11) or maternal caregiving behaviour (n = 12). Maternal anxiety- (n = 4) or depressive-like (n = 2) behaviours are not often evaluated for in enrichment studies. The main behavioural tests of anxiety that were reviewed include the elevated plus-maze, the open field test, and the light-dark box whereas those for depression included the forced swim test and the sucrose preference test. Our results yielded mixed findings and significant variation in behavioural responses across all tests. In mothers, trends of increased maternal care behaviours and decreased maternal depressive-like behaviours in enriched mothers were appreciated. Enrichment during the gestational period was identified as pivotal to creating behavioural change in mother subjects. In enriched offspring rodents, a trend towards decreased anxiety-like behaviours was observed most often. Potential confounds inherent in enrichment paradigms and relevant theories of enrichment and their relation to rodent behavioural tests are discussed.

Keywords: Anxiety-like behaviour; Depressive-like behaviour; Environmental enrichment; Maternal behaviour; Offspring behaviour.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / prevention & control*
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Depression / prevention & control*
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Housing, Animal*
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Rodentia / psychology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Interaction*