Environmental enrichment enhances systems-level consolidation of a spatial memory after lesions of the ventral midline thalamus
Lesions of the reuniens and rhomboid (ReRh) thalamic nuclei in rats do not alter spatial learning but shorten the period of memory persistence (Loureiro et al. 2012). Such persistence requires a hippocampo-cortical (prefrontal) dialog leading to memory consolidation at the systems level. Evidence for reciprocal connections with the hippocampus and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) makes the ReRh a potential hub for regulating hippocampo-cortical interactions. As environmental enrichment (EE) fosters recovery of declarative-like memory functions after diencephalic lesions (e.g., anterior thalamus), we studied the possibility of triggering recovery of systems-level consolidation in ReRh lesioned rats using a 40-day postsurgical EE. Remote memory was tested 25 days post-acquisition in a Morris water maze. The functional activity associated with retrieval was quantified using c-Fos imaging in the dorsal hippocampus, mPFC, intralaminar thalamic nuclei, and amygdala. EE enhanced remote memory in ReRh rats. Conversely, ReRh rats housed in standard conditions were impaired. C-Fos immunohistochemistry showed a higher recruitment of the mPFC in enriched vs. standard rats with ReRh lesions during retrieval. ReRh rats raised in standard conditions showed weaker c-Fos expression than their sham-operated counterparts. The reinstatement of memory capacity implicated an EE-triggered modification of functional connectivity: EE reduced a marked lesion-induced increase in baseline c-Fos expression in the amygdala. Thus, enriched housing conditions counteracted the negative impact of ReRh lesions on spatial memory persistence. These effects could be the EE-triggered consequence of an enhanced neuronal activation in the mPFC, along with an attenuation of a lesion-induced hyperactivity in the amygdala.