BDNF contributes to the facilitation of hippocampal synaptic plasticity and learning enabled by environmental enrichment

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Sensory, motor, and cognitive stimuli, resulting from interactions with the environment, play a key role in optimizing and modifying the neuronal circuitry required for normal brain function. An experimental animal model for this phenomenon comprises environmental enrichment (EE) in rodents. EE causes profound changes in neuronal and signaling levels of excitation and plasticity throughout the entire central nervous system and the hippocampus is particularly affected. The mechanisms underlying these changes are not yet fully understood. As brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) supports hippocampal long-term potentiation (LTP), we explored whether it participates in the facilitation of synaptic plasticity and hippocampus-dependent learning that occurs following EE. In the absence of EE, LTP elicited by high-frequency stimulation was equivalent in wildtype mice and heterozygous BDNF+/− siblings. LTP elicited by theta-burst stimulation in BDNF+/− mice was less than in wildtypes. Long-term depression (LTD) was also impaired. EE for three weeks, beginning after weaning, improved hippocampal LTP in both wildtype and transgenic animals, with LTP in transgenics achieving levels seen in wildtypes in the absence of EE. Object recognition memory was evident in wildtypes 24 h and 7 days after initial object exposure. EE improved memory performance in wildtypes 24 h but not 7 days after initial exposure. BDNF+/− mice in the absence of EE showed impaired memory 7 days after initial object exposure that was restored by EE. Western blotting revealed increased levels of BDNF, but not proBDNF, among both EE cohorts. These data support that BDNF plays an intrinsic role in improvements of synaptic plasticity and cognition that occur in EE. © 2014 The Authors. Hippocampus Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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