Early environmental experience produces profound neural and behavioural effects. For example, animals reared in isolation show increased anxiety, neophobia, and poorer performance in learning and spatial memory tasks. We investigated whether later enrichment reverses some or all of the deficits induced by isolation rearing. Eighty-four male Long-Evans rats (21 days old) were reared under different conditions: enriched (group housed with toys), isolated (one rat/cage), standard (two rats/cage), isolated-enriched, enriched-isolated, isolated-standard, or enriched-standard. In the latter four conditions, animals were housed in the first environment until adolescence (66 days). Following the 90-day rearing period, all animals were assessed in a battery of behavioural tests and cortical thickness was measured postmortem. Isolation rearing led to significant differences in behavioural tests measuring anxiety, spatial learning, and locomotor activity; switching the rearing condition partially reversed these changes. Rearing condition did not affect pain thresholds in the tail flick test or aversive associative learning in the conditioned taste aversion test. Enriched rats had the thickest cortex; isolated rats the thinnest. None of the switch groups differed significantly from standard-reared rats in this measure. Taken together, these results provide novel and interesting information regarding the effects of pre- or post-adolescent enrichment experience on behavioural and neural expression of the social isolation syndrome.

, , , , , , ,
Developmental Brain Research
Department of Neuroscience

Hellemans, K, Benge, L.C. (Luis C.), & Olmstead, M.C. (Mary C.). (2004). Adolescent enrichment partially reverses the social isolation syndrome. Developmental Brain Research, 150(2), 103–115. doi:10.1016/j.devbrainres.2004.03.003