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Beneficial effects of enriched environment on adolescent rats from stressed pregnancies


Dr Giovanni Laviola.


The capacity of an early environmental intervention to normalize the behavioural and immunological dysfunctions produced by a stressed pregnancy was investigated. Pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats underwent three 45-min sessions per day of prenatal restraint stress (PS) on gestation days 11–21, and their offspring were assigned to either an enriched-environment or standard living cages throughout adolescence [postnatal days (pnd) 22–43]. Juvenile rats from stressed pregnancies had a prominent depression of affiliative/playful behaviour and of basal circulating CD4 T lymphocytes, CD8 T lymphocytes and T4/T8 ratio. They also showed increased emotionality and spleen and brain frontal cortex levels of pro-inflammatory interleoukin-1β (IL-1β) cytokine. A more marked response to cyclophosphamide (CPA: two 2 mg/kg IP injections) induced immunosuppression was also found in prenatal stressed rats. Enriched housing increased the amount of time adolescent PS rats spent in positive species-typical behaviours (i.e. play behaviour), reduced emotionality and reverted most of immunological alterations. In addition to its effects in PS rats, enriched housing increased anti-inflammatory IL-2 and reduced pro-inflammatory IL-1β production by activated splenocytes, also producing a marked alleviation of CPA-induced immune depression. In the brain, enriched housing increased IL-1β values in hypothalamus, while slightly normalizing these values in the frontal cortex from PS rats. This is a first indication that an environmental intervention, such as enriched housing, during adolescence can beneficially affect basal immune parameters and rats response to both early stress and drug-induced immunosuppression.