Refining environmental enrichment to advance rehabilitation based research after experimental traumatic brain injury

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The typical environmental enrichment (EE) paradigm, which consists of continuous exposure after experimental traumatic brain injury (TBI), promotes behavioral and histological benefits. However, rehabilitation is often abbreviated in the clinic and administered in multiple daily sessions. While recent studies have demonstrated that a once daily 6-hr bout of EE confers benefits comparable to continuous EE, breaking the therapy into two shorter sessions may increase novelty and ultimately enhance recovery. Hence, the aim of the study was to test the hypothesis that functional and histological outcomes will be significantly improved by daily preclinical neurorehabilitation consisting of two 3-hr periods of EE vs. a single 6-hr session. Anesthetized adult male rats received a controlled cortical impact of moderate-to-severe injury (2.8 mm tissue deformation at 4 m/s) or sham surgery and were then randomly assigned to groups receiving standard (STD) housing, a single 6-hr session of EE, or two 3-hr sessions of EE daily for 3 weeks. Motor function (beam-balance/traversal) and acquisition of spatial learning/memory retention (Morris water maze) were assessed on post-operative days 1–5 and 14–19, respectively. Cortical lesion volume was quantified on day 21. Both EE conditions improved motor function and acquisition of spatial learning, and reduced cortical lesion volume relative to STD housing (p < 0.05), but did not differ from one another in any endpoint (p > 0.05). The findings replicate previous work showing that 6-hr of EE daily is sufficient to confer behavioral and histological benefits after TBI and extend the findings by demonstrating that the benefits are comparable regardless of how the 6-hrs of EE are accrued. The relevance of the finding is that it can be extrapolated to the clinic and may benefit patients who cannot endure a single extended period of neurorehabilitation.

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