Images of the Week: Environmental Enrichment
The brains of children born prematurely are sometimes deprived of oxygen due to underdeveloped lungs and hearts. When these children are older, they may show behavioral or neurological problems due to this early brain injury.
To see whether it is possible to reduce these effects, researchers study mice with brain damage due to hypoxia, a condition involving oxygen deprivation that mimics injuries observed in low-birth-weight human babies.
Scientists from the Yale University School of Medicine recently published a study exploring whether promoting the number of existing neural stem cells might reverse hypoxia-induced deficits in young mice.
One method they used was to enrich the mouse’s environment with toys and a running wheel. A rich learning environment and exercise have previously been associated with increased neural stem cell growth. In this study, which appeared in the June 27 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, the adult mice raised with this enhancement showed fewer deficits than those without it.
The above image shows part of a mouse hippocampus, a brain area associated with learning and memory. The hypoxia and environmental enrichment treatments stimulated an increase in the number of new hippocampal neurons (in red), which arise from astroglial cells (in red and green).
Natalina Salmaso, John Silbereis, Mila Komitova, Patrick Mitchell, Katherine Chapman, Laura R. Ment, Michael L. Schwartz, and Flora M. Vaccarino. (2012) Environmental Enrichment Increases the GFAP+ Stem Cell Pool and Reverses Hypoxia-Induced Cognitive Deficits in Juvenile Mice. The Journal of Neuroscience, 27 June 2012, 32(26):8930-8939.