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Neuroscience. 2009 Dec 1;164(2):788-97. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.08.054. Epub 2009 Aug 29.

Enriched environment influences hormonal status and hippocampal brain derived neurotrophic factor in a sex dependent manner.

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  • 1Laboratory of Pharmacological Neuroendocrinology, Institute of Experimental Endocrinology, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava, Slovakia.


The present study is aimed at testing the hypothesis that an enriched environment (EE) induces sex-dependent changes in stress hormone release and in markers of increased brain plasticity. The focus was on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis activity, plasma levels of stress hormones, gene expression of glutamate receptor subunits and concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in selected brain regions. Rats exposed to EE were housed in groups of 12 in large cages with various objects, which were frequently changed, for 6 weeks. Control animals were housed four per cage under standard conditions. In females the EE-induced rise in hippocampal BDNF, a neurotrophic factor associated with increased neural plasticity, was more pronounced than in males. Similar sex-specific changes were observed in BDNF concentrations in the hypothalamus. EE also significantly attenuated oxytocin and aldosterone levels only in female but not male rats. Plasma testosterone positively correlated with hippocampal BDNF in female but not male rats housed in EE. In male rats housing in EE led to enhanced levels of testosterone and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), this was not seen in females. Hippocampal glucocorticoid but not mineralocorticoid receptor levels decreased in rats housed in EE irrespective of sex. Housing conditions failed to modify mRNA levels of glutamate receptor type 1 (Glur1) and metabotropic glutamate receptor subtype 5 (mGlur5) subunits of glutamate receptors in the forebrain. Moreover, a negative association between corticosterone and BDNF was observed in both sexes. The results demonstrate that the association between hormones and changes in brain plasticity is sex related. In particular, testosterone seems to be involved in the regulatory processes related to neuroplasticity in females.

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