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Eur J Neurosci. 2004 Sep;20(6):1655-64.

Beneficial effects of enriched environment on adolescent rats from stressed pregnancies.

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1
Section of Behavioural Neuroscience, Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Istituto Superiore di Sanita, Viale Regina Elena, 299, I-00161 Roma, Italy. laviola@iss.it

Abstract

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-1beta (IL-1beta) 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-1beta production by activated splenocytes, also producing a marked alleviation of CPA-induced immune depression. In the brain, enriched housing increased IL-1beta 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.

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