Environmental Enrichment Influences Social Preference Task Behavior And Neural Activity In Adolescent Long-Evans Rats

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Makayla Wood (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
Web Site: https://library.appstate.edu/
Mark Zrull

Abstract: Adolescence is a time of physiological growth and development in human beings featuring enhanced social interaction, risk-seeking behavior, and curiosity. Adolescent rats exhibit similar, species-specific characteristics. The aim of the current study was to observe changes in behavior and neural activity in adolescent rats through environmental manipulation. Environmental Enrichment (EE) is the stimulation of social and physical aspects of a laboratory animal's environment and can lead to various neurological and behavioral advancements. Subjects in this study were 24 Long-Evans rats that were divided into two conditions: experimental and control. The experimental group experienced EE sessions and the control group did not. After 20 EE sessions, rats from both groups participated in a social preference task (SPT). The SPT is a two-trial procedure commonly performed to analyze how EE affects the inclination of a rat to act toward a familiar or novel stimulus rat. Once behavior was observed, rats were euthanized and brain tissue was processed to identify neurons activated by the SPT using a neural activity marker, c-FOS. The basolateral amygdala (BLA) and the hippocampus' Cornu Ammonis 2 (CA2) were regions of interest. Combined, these areas are crucial for fear processing and social learning memory. Results showed that neither the EE nor the control rats displayed a significant preference for either stimulus rat during the SPT. It was, however, established that compared to other conditions, male enriched rats spent a significantly greater amount of total time (p < .001) and time per contact (p < .001) with either stimulus rat. Additionally, the BLA of enriched rats had greater mean neural activity than the CA2 of enriched rats (p = .008) and the BLA of non- enriched rats (p = .005). There was no significant evoked activity in the CA2 of either group. Overall, results suggest EE may decrease an adolescent rat's probability of engaging in risky behavior in a social setting through experience allowing for informal learning and memory that may promote neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity. It is thought that analogous strategies could be employed to impact adolescent behavior and neurological structure in people.

Additional Information

Honors Project
Wood, M. (2020). Environmental Enrichment Influences Social Preference Task Behavior And Neural Activity In Adolescent Long-Evans Rats. Unpublished Honors Thesis. Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.
Language: English
Date: 2020
adolescence, enrichment, social preference, neural activity, amygdala, hippocampus

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