Brain plasticity is profoundly impacted by one’s living environment. The hippocampus, involved in learning and memory, is highly susceptible to plasticity. Raising rodents in an “enriched environment” (EE) increases learning and memorization aptitudes and decreases the anxiety of the animals. EE consists of a combination of running wheels for voluntary physical exercise, complex inanimate toys, nests, mazes, etc. all of which favor sensory stimulations and social enrichment. EE housing concomitantly increases proliferation and survival of neurons and glia in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, induces changes in neuronal morphology, modifies synaptic plasticity, and favors angiogenesis. The mechanisms underlying the effects of EE on plasticity, which have recently been investigated are reviewed here, including the role of glia, the involvement of molecular factors including neurotransmitters (glutamate), neurotrophic factors (BDNF), adipokines (leptin and adiponectin), chemokines, cytokines, and hormones (corticosteroid and thyroid hormones), and at a higher level, the various systems involved (neural networks and hormonal systems). We emphasize recent findings that demonstrate the major role of the immune system in modulating EE-induced changes to hippocampal plasticity. This process involves a variety of immune cells (including macrophages, microglia, natural killer, B-cells, and T-cells), although the mechanisms are yet to be fully elucidated.
Part of the book: The Hippocampus