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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Nov 29;102(48):17478-82. Epub 2005 Nov 18.

Experience induces structural and biochemical changes in the adult primate brain.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.


Primates exhibit complex social and cognitive behavior in the wild. In the laboratory, however, the expression of their behavior is usually limited. A large body of literature shows that living in an enriched environment alters dendrites and synapses in the brains of adult rodents. To date, no studies have investigated the influence of living in a complex environment on brain structure in adult primates. We assessed dendritic architecture, dendritic spines, and synaptic proteins in adult marmosets housed in either a standard laboratory cage or in one of two differentially complex habitats. A month-long stay in either complex environment enhanced the length and complexity of the dendritic tree and increased dendritic spine density and synaptic protein levels in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. No differences were detected between the brains of marmosets living in the two differentially complex environments. Our results show that the structure of the adult primate brain remains highly sensitive even to modest levels of experiential complexity. For adult primates, living in standard laboratory housing may induce reversible dendritic spine and synapse decreases in brain regions important for cognition.

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