Environmental enrichment decreases avoidance responses in the elevated T-maze and delta FosB immunoreactivity in anxiety-related brain regions

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Lopes, Danielle Abreu [UNIFESP]
Souza, Thaissa Marcondes de Oliveira [UNIFESP]
Andrade, José Simões de [UNIFESP]
Silva, Mariana Santos Carvalho de Faria [UNIFESP]
Antunes, Hanna Karen Moreira [UNIFESP]
Le Sueur-Maluf, Luciana [UNIFESP]
Céspedes, Isabel Cristina [UNIFESP]
Viana, Milena de Barros [UNIFESP]
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Environmental enrichment (EE) is an animal management technique, which seems to improve adaptation to the experimental conditions of housing in laboratory animals. Previous studies have pointed to different beneficial effects of the procedure in the treatment of several disorders, including psychiatric conditions such as depression. The anxiolytic effects induced by EE, on the other hand, are not as clear. In fact, it has been proposed that EE acts as a mild stressor agent. To better understand the relationship of EE with anxiety-related responses, the present study exposed rats to one week of EE and subsequently tested these animals in the inhibitory avoidance and escape tasks of the elevated T-maze (ETM). In clinical terms, these responses have been respectively related to generalized anxiety and panic disorder. All animals were tested in an open field, immediately after the ETM, for locomotor activity assessment. Additionally, analysis of delta FosB protein immunoreactivity (FosB-ir) was used to map areas activated by EE exposure and plasma corticosterone measurements were performed. The results obtained demonstrate that exposure to EE for one week impaired avoidance responses, an anxiolytic-like effect, without altering escape reactions. Also, in animals submitted to the avoidance task EE exposure decreased FosB-ir in the cingulate cortex, dorsolateral and intermediate lateral septum, hippocampus (cornus of Ammon), anterior and dorsomedial hypothalamus, medial and basolateral amygdala and ventral region of the dorsal raphe nucleus. Although no behavioral differences were observed in animals submitted to the escape task, EE exposure also decreased FosB-ir in the cingulate cortex, hippocampus (dentate gyms), lateral amygdala, paraventricular, anterior and ventromedial hypothalamus, dorsomedial periaqueductal gray and ventral and dorsal region of the dorsal raphe. No changes in corticosterone levels, however, were observed. These results contribute to a better understanding of the effects of EE on anxiety.
Behavioural Brain Research. Amsterdam, v. 344, p. 65-72, 2018.