Layer and regional effects of environmental enrichment on the pyramidal neuron morphology of the rat

Francesca Gelfo, Paola De Bartolo, Angela Giovine, Laura Petrosini, Maria Giuseppa Leggio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The environmental enrichment (EE) paradigm is widely used to study experience-dependent brain plasticity. Several studies have investigated functional and anatomical EE effects. However, as EE effects are different according to cerebral region, cortical layer, dendritic field and morphological index considered, a univocal characterization of neuronal morphological changes following rearing in enriched environments is lacking. Aim of the present study was to characterize in the rat the effects of EE on the neuronal morphology of frontal and parietal cortical regions, the main target areas of the stimulation provided by the paradigm. Male Wistar rats were housed in an enriched environment for 3.5 months from the 21st postnatal day. For the morphological analysis, biotinylated dextran amine (BDA)-labeled pyramidal neurons were selected from frontal (M1-M2) and parietal (S1-S2) cortical layers III and V. Apical and basal dendritic branching and spines were analyzed using the Sholl method. Results showed that EE increased branching and spines in both layers of frontal cortex, but had a greater effect on apical arborization. In parietal cortex, EE significantly affected branching and spines in layer III but not layer V neurons, in which only a tendency to be influenced by the rearing conditions was observed in basal arborization. It is hypothesized that these multifaceted morphological EE effects are connected to the heavy involvement of a sensory-motor circuit engaged in the guidance of voluntary action and in motor learning activated by EE stimulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-365
Number of pages13
JournalNeurobiology of Learning and Memory
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - May 2009


  • Apical dendrites
  • Basal dendrites
  • Dendritic spines
  • Motor cortex
  • Neural plasticity
  • Somato-sensory cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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