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PLoS One. 2012;7(1):e30803. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0030803. Epub 2012 Jan 25.

Early natural stimulation through environmental enrichment accelerates neuronal development in the mouse dentate gyrus.

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Institute of Neuroscience and State Key Laboratory of Neuroscience, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai, China.


The dentate gyrus is the primary afferent into the hippocampal formation, with important functions in learning and memory. Granule cells, the principle neuronal type in the dentate gyrus, are mostly formed postnatally, in a process that continues into adulthood. External stimuli, including environmental enrichment, voluntary exercise and learning, have been shown to significantly accelerate the generation and maturation of dentate granule cells in adult rodents. Whether, and to what extent, such environmental stimuli regulate the development and maturation of dentate granule cells during early postnatal development is largely unknown. Furthermore, whether natural stimuli affect the synaptic properties of granule cells had been investigated neither in newborn neurons of the adult nor during early development. To examine the effect of natural sensory stimulation on the dentate gyrus, we reared newborn mice in an enriched environment (EE). Using immunohistochemistry, we showed that dentate granule cells from EE-reared mice exhibited earlier morphological maturation, manifested as faster peaking of doublecortin expression and elevated expression of mature neuronal markers (including NeuN, calbindin and MAP2) at the end of the second postnatal week. Also at the end of the second postnatal week, we found increased density of dendritic spines across the entire dentate gyrus, together with elevated levels of postsynaptic scaffold (post-synaptic density 95) and receptor proteins (GluR2 and GABA(A)Rγ2) of excitatory and inhibitory synapses. Furthermore, dentate granule cells of P14 EE-reared mice had lower input resistances and increased glutamatergic and GABAergic synaptic inputs. Together, our results demonstrate that EE-rearing promotes morphological and electrophysiological maturation of dentate granule cells, underscoring the importance of natural environmental stimulation on development of the dentate gyrus.

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