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J Neurosci. 2011 Apr 20;31(16):6159-73. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011.

Environmental enrichment confers stress resiliency to social defeat through an infralimbic cortex-dependent neuroanatomical pathway.

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Section on Functional Neuroanatomy, Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Regulation, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


Enriched environmental (EE) housing dampens stress-induced alterations in neurobiological systems, promotes adaptability, and extinguishes submissive behavioral traits developed during social defeat stress (SD). In the present study, we hypothesized that enrichment before SD can confer stress resiliency and, furthermore, that neuronal activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is requisite for this resiliency. To test these hypotheses, mice were housed in EE, standard (SE), or impoverished (IE) housing and then exposed to SD. EE conferred resilience to SD as measured in several behavioral tasks. EE-housed mice expressed elevated FosB/ΔFosB immunostaining in areas associated with emotional regulation and reward processing, i.e., infralimbic, prelimbic, and anterior cingulate cortices, amygdala, and nucleus accumbens, and this expression was mostly preserved in mice receiving EE followed by SD. In contrast, in SE- or IE-housed animals, SD increased maladaptive behaviors and greatly reduced FosB/ΔFosB staining in the forebrain. We tested the putative involvement of the PFC in mediating resilience by lesioning individual regions of the PFC either before or after EE housing and then exposing the mice to SD. We found that discrete lesions of the infralimbic but not prelimbic or cingulate cortex made before but not after EE abolished the behavioral resiliency to stress afforded by EE and attenuated FosB/ΔFosB expression in the accumbens and amygdala while increasing it in the paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus. These data suggest that pathological ventromedial PFC outputs to downstream limbic targets could predispose an individual to anxiety disorders in stressful situations, whereas enhanced ventromedial PFC outputs could convey stress resilience.

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