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Brain Plast. 2018 Dec 12;4(1):127-150. doi: 10.3233/BPL-180076.

Transgenic Mouse Models as Tools for Understanding How Increased Cognitive and Physical Stimulation Can Improve Cognition in Alzheimer's Disease.

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Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Melbourne Brain Centre, University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, Australia.
Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, Australia.


Cognitive decline appears as a core feature of dementia, of which the most prevalent form, Alzheimer's disease (AD) affects more than 45 million people worldwide. There is no cure, and therapeutic options remain limited. A number of modifiable lifestyle factors have been identified that contribute to cognitive decline in dementia. Sedentary lifestyle has emerged as a major modifier and accordingly, boosting mental and physical activity may represent a method to prevent decline in dementia. Beneficial effects of increased physical activity on cognition have been reported in healthy adults, showing potential to harness exercise and cognitive stimulation as a therapy in dementia. 'Brain training' (cognitive stimulation) has also been investigated as an intervention protecting against cognitive decline with normal aging. Consequently, the utility of exercise regimes and/or cognitive stimulation to improve cognition in dementia in clinical populations has been a major area of study. However, these therapies are in their infancy and efficacy is unclear. Investigations utilising animal models, where dose and timing of treatment can be tightly controlled, have provided many mechanistic insights. Genetically engineered mouse models are powerful tools to investigate mechanisms underlying cognitive decline, and also how environmental manipulations can alter both cognitive outcomes and pathology. A myriad of effects following physical activity and housing in enriched environments have been reported in transgenic mice expressing Alzheimer's disease-associated mutations. In this review, we comprehensively evaluate all studies applying environmental enrichment and/or increased physical exercise to transgenic mouse models of Alzheimer's disease. It is unclear whether interventions must be applied before first onset of cognitive deficits to be effective. In order to determine the importance of timing of interventions, we specifically scrutinised studies exposing transgenic mice to exercise and environmental enrichment before and after first report of cognitive impairment. We discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these preclinical studies and suggest approaches for enhancing rigor and using mechanistic insights to inform future therapeutic interventions.


Dementia; cognitive stimulation; enviromimetics; environmental enrichment; exercise; experience-dependent plasticity; lifestyle factors; physical activity; ‘brain training’

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