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Brain Res Mol Brain Res. 2001 Jul 13;91(1-2):50-6.

Upregulation of the immediate early gene arc in the brains of rats exposed to environmental enrichment: implications for molecular plasticity.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, B3H 4H7, Halifax, Canada.


Exposure to an enriched environment, a procedure that induces plasticity in the cerebral cortex, is associated with pronounced morphological changes, including higher density of dendritic spines, enlargement of synaptic boutons, and other putative correlates of altered neurotransmission. Recently, it has been demonstrated that animals reared in an enriched environment setting for 3 weeks have less neuronal damage as a result of seizures and have decreased rates of spontaneous apoptosis. Even though clear morphological modifications are observed in the cerebral cortex of animals exposed to heightened environmental complexity, the molecular mechanisms that underlie such modifications are yet to be described. In the present work, we investigated the expression of the immediate early gene arc in the cortex of animals exposed to an enriched environment. Animals were exposed daily, for 1 h, to an enriched environment, for a total period of 3 weeks. Brains were processed for in-situ hybridization against arc mRNA. We found a marked upregulation of arc mRNA in the cerebral cortex of animals exposed to the enriched environment, when compared to undisturbed controls, an effect that was most pronounced in cortical layers III and V. Animals in an additional control group that were handled for 5 min daily, displayed intermediate levels of arc mRNA. Furthermore, arc expression was upregulated in the CA1, CA2 and CA3 hippocampal subfields and in the striatum, but to a lesser extent in the dentate gyrus of animals exposed to an enriched environment, as compared to the two control groups. Our results support the association between the upregulation of the immediate early gene arc and plasticity-associated anatomical changes in the cerebral cortex of the adult mammal.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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