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Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2007 Oct;88(3):277-94. Epub 2007 Aug 21.

Enhanced cognitive activity--over and above social or physical activity--is required to protect Alzheimer's mice against cognitive impairment, reduce Abeta deposition, and increase synaptic immunoreactivity.

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  • 1The Johnnie B. Byrd Alzheimer's Center and Research Institute, Tampa, FL 33613, USA.


Although social, physical, and cognitive activities have each been suggested to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD), epidemiologic studies cannot determine which activity or combination of activities is most important. To address this question, mutant APP transgenic AD mice were reared long-term in one of four housing conditions (impoverished, social, social+physical, or complete enrichment) from 1(1/2) through 9 months of age. Thus, a stepwise layering of social, physical, and enhanced cognitive activity was created. Behavioral evaluation in a full battery of sensorimotor, anxiety, and cognitive tasks was carried out during the final 5 weeks of housing. Only AD mice raised in complete enrichment (i.e., enhanced cognitive activity) showed: (1) protection against cognitive impairment, (2) decreased brain beta-amyloid deposition, and (3) increased hippocampal synaptic immunoreactivity. The protection provided by enhanced cognitive activity spanned multiple cognitive domains (working memory, reference learning, and recognition/identification). Cognitive and neurohistologic benefits of complete enrichment occurred without any changes in blood cytokine or corticosterone levels, suggesting that enrichment-dependent mechanisms do not involve changes in the inflammatory response or stress levels, respectively. These results indicate that the enhanced cognitive activity of complete enrichment is required for cognitive and neurologic benefit to AD mice-physical and/or social activity are insufficient. Thus, our data suggest that humans who emphasize a high lifelong level of cognitive activity (over and above social and physical activities) will attain the maximal environmental protection against AD.

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