Binge-like alcohol exposure in neonatal rats during the brain growth spurt causes deficits in adult neurogenesis in the hippocampal dentate gyrus (DG). Previous data from our laboratory demonstrated that 12 days of voluntary wheel running (WR) beginning on postnatal day (PD) 30 significantly increased the number of newly generated cells evident in the DG on PD42 in both alcohol-exposed (AE) and control rats, but 30 days later a sustained beneficial effect of WR was evident only in control rats. This study tested the hypothesis that housing rats in environmental complexity (EC) following WR would promote the survival of the newly generated cells stimulated by WR, particularly in AE rats.
On PD4 to 9, pups were intubated with alcohol in a binge-like manner (5.25 g/kg/d), sham-intubated (SI), or reared normally. In Experiment 1, animals were either assigned to WR during PD30 to 42 or socially housed (SH). On PD42, animals were injected with bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU; 200 mg/kg) and perfused 2 hours later to confirm the WR-induced stimulation of proliferation. In Experiment 2, all animals received WR on PD30 to 42 and were injected with BrdU on the last full day of WR. On PD42, animals were randomly assigned either to EC (WR/EC) or to SH (WR/SH) for 30 days and subsequently perfused and brains were processed for immunohistochemical staining to identify BrdU+-, Ki67+-, and BrdU+/NeuN+-labeled cells in DG.
In Experiment 1, WR exposure significantly increased the number of proliferating cells in all 3 postnatal conditions. In Experiment 2, the AE rats given WR/SH had significantly fewer BrdU+ cells compared with control rats given WR/SH. However, WR/EC experience significantly increased the number of surviving BrdU+ cells in both the AE and SI groups compared with WR/SH rats of the same neonatal treatment. Approximately 80% of the surviving BrdU+ cells in the DG across the conditions were colabeled with NeuN.
WR followed by EC could provide a behavioral model for developing interventions in humans to ameliorate hippocampal-dependent impairments associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
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