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Sci Rep. 2016 Jun 16;6:28182. doi: 10.1038/srep28182.

Environmental enrichment induces behavioural disturbances in neuropeptide Y knockout mice.

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Research Unit of Translational Neurogastroenterology, Institute of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology, Medical University of Graz, Universitätsplatz 4, 8010 Graz, Austria.
Research Unit Electron Microscopic Techniques, Institute of Cell Biology, Histology and Embryology, Medical University of Graz, Harrachgasse 21, 8010 Graz, Austria.
Neuroscience Division, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, 384 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney, NSW 2010, Australia.


Environmental enrichment (EE) refers to the provision of a complex and stimulating housing condition which improves well-being, behaviour and brain function of laboratory animals. The mechanisms behind these beneficial effects of EE are only partially understood. In the current report, we describe a link between EE and neuropeptide Y (NPY), based on findings from NPY knockout (KO) mice exposed to EE. Relative to EE-housed wildtype (WT) animals, NPY KO mice displayed altered behaviour as well as molecular and morphological changes in amygdala and hippocampus. Exposure of WT mice to EE reduced anxiety and decreased central glucocorticoid receptor expression, effects which were absent in NPY KO mice. In addition, NPY deletion altered the preference of EE items, and EE-housed NPY KO mice responded to stress with exaggerated hyperthermia, displayed impaired spatial memory, had higher hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor mRNA levels and altered hippocampal synaptic plasticity, effects which were not seen in WT mice. Accordingly, these findings suggest that NPY contributes to the anxiolytic effect of EE and that NPY deletion reverses the beneficial effects of EE into a negative experience. The NPY system could thus be a target for "enviromimetics", therapeutics which reproduce the beneficial effects of enhanced environmental stimulation.

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