Enrich your Environment

by F.

According to this article in Nature Reviews Neuroscience

Behavioural, cellular and molecular studies have revealed significant effects of enriched environments on rodents and other species, and provided new insights into mechanisms of experience-dependent plasticity, including adult neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity.

What kinds of “enriched environments?” A press release from researchers at the University of Chicago describes them, unfortunately without pictures (I imagine little IKEA tables and chairs for the mice):

more chances to exercise, explore and interact with others…large cages filled with running wheels, colored tunnels and multiple toys….

One of the authors of the study noted that

…an enhanced environment can have such a tremendously beneficial impact, protecting the brain from the pathological hallmarks of this insidious disease.

And Stanislav Karsten and Daniel Geschwind of UCLA note a

“potentially causal inverse relationship between a more engaging, enriched life and AD [Alzheimer’s disease] progression….” They also provide “clear initial directions for exploring the role of the environment and the molecular pathways perturbed in AD and other neurodegenerative disorders.”

Back to the abstract for the NRN article:

The demonstration that the onset and progression of Huntington’s disease in transgenic mice is delayed by environmental enrichment has emphasized the importance of understanding both genetic and environmental factors in nervous system disorders, including those with Mendelian inheritance patterns. A range of rodent models of other brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, fragile X and Down syndrome, as well as various forms of brain injury, have now been compared under enriched and standard housing conditions. Here, we review these findings on the environmental modulators of pathogenesis and gene–environment interactions in CNS disorders, and discuss their therapeutic implications.

The moral is clear: get yourself a mouse wheel. If it’s good enough for “wee moosies” (as my Scottish grandmother used to say), it’s good enough for we non-moosies.