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Neuroscience. 2004;123(3):703-14.

Effects of early environment on field CA2 pyramidal neurons in the guinea-pig.

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Dipartimento di Fisiologia Umana e Generale, Università di Bologna, Piazza di Porta San Donato 2, I-40127, Bologna, Italy.


Previous work showed that isolation rearing produces remarkable changes in the dendritic pattern and soma of the principal neurons in the dentate gyrus and hippocampal fields CA3 and CA1 of the guinea-pig. The aim of the present study was to obtain information about the effects of early postnatal isolation on neuron morphology in field CA2, the "resistant sector" of the hippocampal formation. Male and female guinea-pigs were assigned at 6-7 days of age to either a control (social) or an isolated environment where they remained for 80-90 days. The apical and basal dendritic trees and the soma of CA2 pyramidal neurons were analyzed and quantified in Golgi-stained brains. The results showed that in both males and females early isolation caused no effects on the length and dendritic branching density of the apical tree of field CA2 pyramidal neurons. In males but not in females isolation caused a spine density reduction in the inner apical tree. Isolation notably influenced the morphology of the basal tree, but in males only. Isolated males exhibited a significant reduction in the length of the basal tree and number of dendritic branches accompanied by a reduction in spine density. The comparison of animals reared in the same environment showed that in the control environment males had more apical and basal dendritic branches and a larger neuron soma than females. In the isolated environment the sex differences in the apical tree disappeared and those in the basal tree changed direction.The results demonstrate structural changes in field CA2 pyramidal neurons following neonatal isolation, with a specific reactivity to environment of the basal tree of males. The dendritic atrophy in field CA2 of isolated males is in line with previous evidence that males react to isolation mainly with dendritic atrophy, though field CA2 neurons appear to be less damaged than those of the other hippocampal fields. This is in line with the resistance of this field to neurodegeneration. The absence of structural changes in field CA2 of isolated females confirms, once again, that males are more liable to be endangered by early isolation than females.

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