Environmental enrichment promotes improved spatial abilities and enhanced dendritic growth in the rat

Maria Giuseppa Leggio, Laura Mandolesi, Francesca Federico, Francesca Spirito, Benedetta Ricci, Francesca Gelfo, Laura Petrosini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An enriched environment consists of a combination of enhanced social relations, physical exercise and interactions with non-social stimuli that leads to behavioral and neuronal modifications. In the present study, we analyzed the behavioral effects of environmental complexity on different facets of spatial function, and we assessed dendritic arborisation and spine density in a cortical area mainly involved in the spatial learning, as the parietal cortex. Wistar rat pups (21 days old) were housed in enriched conditions (10 animals in a large cage with toys and a running wheel), or standard condition (two animals in a standard cage, without objects). At the age of 3 months, both groups were tested in the radial maze task and Morris water maze (MWM). Morphological analyses on layer-III pyramidal neurons of parietal cortex were performed in selected animals belonging to both experimental groups. In the radial maze task, enriched animals exhibited high performance levels, by exploiting procedural competencies and working memory abilities. Furthermore, when the requirements of the context changed, they promptly reorganized their strategies by shifting from prevalently using spatial procedures to applying mnesic competencies. In the Morris water maze, enriched animals more quickly acquired tuned navigational strategies. Environmental enrichment provoked increased dendritic arborisation as well as increased density of dendritic spines in layer-III parietal pyramidal neurons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-90
Number of pages13
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 30 2005


  • Dendritic spines
  • Development
  • Neuronal changes
  • Parietal cortex
  • Spatial procedural learning
  • Spatial working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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