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Keywords:

  • attention;
  • enrichment;
  • memory;
  • nociception;
  • platelet-activating factor

Abstract

Sprague-Dawley rats were reared in enriched (EC; group housing, exposure to stimulating objects, frequent handling) or restricted (RC; individual housing, no exposure to stimulating objects, minimal handling) environments starting on day 23 of life. At six months of age, they underwent behavioural tests to assess ‘cognitive’ and ‘stimulus-response’ memory, selective attention, and inflammatory pain processing. Alterations in synapses and cell survival may occur as a result of environment differences; therefore we assessed the brain levels of several proteins implicated in neurite outgrowth, synaptogenesis, and cell survival. Brains were dissected and analysed for amyloid precursor protein (APP) and other synaptic and cytoskeletal proteins using Western blotting. The performance of EC animals in a hidden platform water maze task, and in a test of selective attention (both of which are thought to involve the hippocampus) was superior to that of RC animals. In contrast, performance of RC animals on two stimulus-response tasks, the visible platform water maze test and simple visual discrimination (both of which are thought to be hippocampal independent) was indistinguishable from that of EC animals. Male EC rats displayed a different behavioural response to formalin during the inflammatory phase of nociception – the phase affected by hippocampal processing; a similar trend was observed in females. Female but not male RC rats exhibited elevated plasma corticosterone levels; adrenal weights were unaffected by environmental conditions. Region-specific increases in brain levels of APP, neurofilament-70 (NF-70), and platelet-activating factor receptor (PAF-R) were found in EC rats. These data suggest that enriched animals manifest enhanced functioning of certain hippocampus-mediated behaviours when compared with that of their restricted counterparts; and that brain levels of various synaptic and structural proteins involved in neurite outgrowth, cell survival, and synaptogenesis, are affected by environmental factors.