The hippocampus of rodents undergoes structural remodeling throughout adulthood, including the addition of new neurons. Adult neurogenesis is sensitive to environmental enrichment and stress. Microglia, the brain's resident immune cells, are involved in adult neurogenesis by engulfing dying new neurons. While previous studies using laboratory environmental enrichment have investigated alterations in brain structure and function, they do not provide an adequate reflection of living in the wild, in which stress and environmental instability are common. Here, we compared mice living in standard laboratory settings to mice living in outdoor enclosures to assess the complex interactions among environment, gut infection, and hippocampal plasticity. We infected mice with parasitic worms and studied their effects on adult neurogenesis, microglia, and functions associated with the hippocampus, including cognition and anxiety regulation. We found an increase in immature neuron numbers of mice living in outdoor enclosures regardless of infection. While outdoor living prevented increases in microglial reactivity induced by infection in both the dorsal and ventral hippocampus, outdoor mice with infection had fewer microglia and microglial processes in the ventral hippocampus. We observed no differences in cognitive performance on the hippocampus-dependent object location task between infected and uninfected mice living in either setting. However, we found that infection caused an increase in anxiety-like behavior in the open field test but only in outdoor mice. These findings suggest that living conditions, as well as gut infection, interact to produce complex effects on brain structure and function.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- adult neurogenesis
- parasite infection