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Physiol Behav. 2015 Nov 1;151:441-7. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.08.002. Epub 2015 Aug 4.

Voluntary exercise enhances activity rhythms and ameliorates anxiety- and depression-like behaviors in the sand rat model of circadian rhythm-related mood changes.

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Dept. of Zoology, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel.
School of Behavioral Sciences, Tel Aviv-Yaffo Academic College, Tel-Aviv, Israel; Dept. of Clinical Biochemistry and Pharmacology, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba, Israel; College of Pharmacy, University of Minnesota, USA. Electronic address:


Physical exercise is a non-pharmacological treatment for affective disorders. The mechanisms of its effects are unknown although some suggest a relationship to synchronization of circadian rhythms. One way to explore mechanisms is to utilize animal models. We previously demonstrated that the diurnal fat sand rat is an advantageous model for studying the interactions between photoperiods and mood. The current study was designed to evaluate the effects of voluntary exercise on activity rhythms and anxiety and depression-like behaviors in sand rats as a step towards better understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Male sand rats were housed in short photoperiod (SP; 5h light/19 h dark) or neutral light (NP; 12h light/12h dark) regimens for 3 weeks and divided into subgroups with or without running wheels. Activity was monitored for 3 additional weeks and then animals were tested in the elevated plus-maze, the forced swim test and the social interaction test. Activity rhythms were enhanced by the running wheels. As hypothesized, voluntary exercise had significant effects on SP animals' anxiety- and depression-like behaviors but not on NP animals. Results are discussed in the context of interactions between physical exercise, circadian rhythms and mood. We suggest that the sand rat model can be used to explore the underlying mechanism of the effects of physical exercise for mood disorders.


Animal model; Behavior; Circadian rhythms; Depression; Diurnality; Running wheels

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