The environmental enrichment (EE) paradigm is widely used to study experience-dependent brain plasticity. In spite of a long history of research, the EE influence on neuronal morphology has not yet been described in relation to the different regions of the cerebellum. Thus, aim of the present study was to characterize the EE effects on density and size of dendritic spines of Purkinje cell proximal and distal compartments in cerebellar vermian and hemispherical regions. Male Wistar rats were housed in an enriched or standard environment for 3.5 months from the 21st post-natal day onwards. The morphological features of Purkinje cell spines were visualized on calbindin immunofluorescence-stained cerebellar vermian and hemispherical sections. Density, area, length and head diameter of spines were manually (ImageJ) or automatically (Imaris) quantified. Results demonstrated that the Purkinje cell spine density was higher in enriched rats than in controls on both proximal and distal dendrite compartments in the hemisphere, while it increased only on distal compartment in the vermis. As for spine size, a significant increase of area, length and head diameter was found in the distal dendrites in both vermis and hemisphere. Thus, the exposure to a complex environment enhances synapse formation and plasticity either in the vermis involved in balance and locomotion and in the hemisphere involved in complex motor adaptations and acquisition of new motor strategies. These data highlight the importance of cerebellar activity-dependent structural plasticity underling the EE-related high-level performances.
- Dendritic spines
- Environmental enrichment
- Proximal and distal dendrites
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