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Keywords:

  • Adult hippocampal neurogenesis;
  • aerobic exercise;
  • BrdU;
  • F1 hybrids;
  • genetic correlations;
  • heritability;
  • home cage activity;
  • inbred strains;
  • wheel running

New neurons are continuously born in the hippocampus of several mammalian species throughout adulthood. Adult neurogenesis represents a natural model for understanding how to grow and incorporate new nerve cells into preexisting circuits in the brain. Finding molecules or biological pathways that increase neurogenesis has broad potential for regenerative medicine. One strategy is to identify mouse strains that display large vs. small increases in neurogenesis in response to wheel running so that the strains can be contrasted to find common genes or biological pathways associated with enhanced neuron formation. Therefore, mice from 12 different isogenic strains were housed with or without running wheels for 43 days to measure the genetic regulation of exercise-induced neurogenesis. During the first 10 days mice received daily injections of 5-bromo-2′-deoxyuridine (BrdU) to label dividing cells. Neurogenesis was measured as the total number of BrdU cells co-expressing NeuN mature neuronal marker in the hippocampal granule cell layer by immunohistochemistry. Exercise increased neurogenesis in all strains, but the magnitude significantly depended on genotype. Strain means for distance run on wheels, but not distance traveled in cages without wheels, were significantly correlated with strain mean level of neurogenesis. Furthermore, certain strains displayed greater neurogenesis than others for a fixed level of running. Strain means for neurogenesis under sedentary conditions were not correlated with neurogenesis under runner conditions suggesting that different genes influence baseline vs. exercise-induced neurogenesis. Genetic contributions to exercise-induced hippocampal neurogenesis suggest that it may be possible to identify genes and pathways associated with enhanced neuroplastic responses to exercise.