Experience-dependent behavioral plasticity is disturbed following traumatic injury to the immature brain

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Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is most prevalent in children and young adults. The long-term effects of pediatric TBI include cognitive and behavioral impairments; however, over time, it is difficult to distinguish individual variability in intellect and behavior from sequelae of early injury. Postnatal day (PND) 19 rats underwent lateral fluid percussion (FP) injury, followed by rearing in either standard (STD) or enriched environment (EE) conditions. The hypothesis was that the traditional enhancement of cognitive functioning following EE rearing would be attenuated when this rearing is preceded by TBI at PND19. Thirty days after injury, Morris water maze (MWM) acquisition and subsequent probe trial retention were used to assess the behavioral effects of injury on experience-dependent plasticity induced by housing in EE at two different time windows. MWM acquisition demonstrated improvements following early EE rearing in both sham and injured animals; however, the degree of improvement was greater for uninjured animals. When EE rearing was delayed for 2 weeks after injury, the injury effect was absent and the effect of rearing even stronger. Memory testing in the early EE groups using a delayed probe trial showed an effect of injury and housing, with the sham EE animals benefiting the most. After the delayed EE, sham EE animals again showed more probe target hits, while FPEE animals did not, demonstrating an enduring memory deficit. These data confirm that early TBI has effects on experience-dependent plasticity resulting in long-term neurobehavioral deficits. In addition, the ability to benefit from environmental stimulation following TBI is dependent upon time after injury.

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