This study builds on the findings that physical activity, such as wheel running in mice, enhances cell proliferation and neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus of the common mouse strain C57BL/6, and that the baseline level of neurogenesis varies by strain, being considerably lower in DBA/2. Because C57BL/6 and DBA/2 are important as the parental strains of the BXD recombinant inbred cross which allows the detection of genetic loci regulating phenotypes such as adult neurogenesis, we performed the current study to investigate the gene x environment interactions regulating neurogenesis. At equal distances and times run DBA/2J mice lacked the acute increase in precursor cell proliferation known from C57BL/6. In DBA/2J proliferation even negatively correlated with the distance run. This was neither due to a stress response (to running itself or single housing) nor differences in estrous cycle. DBA/2 animals exhibited a delayed and weaker pro-neurogenic response with a significant increase in numbers of proliferating cells first detectable after more than a week of wheel running. The proliferative response to running was transient in both strains, the effect being undetectable by 6 weeks. There was also a small transient increase in the production of new neurons in DBA/2J, although these extra cells did not survive. These findings indicate that the comparison between C57BL/6 and DBA/2, and by extension the BXD genetic reference population derived from these strains, should provide a powerful tool for uncovering the complex network of modifier genes affecting the activity-dependent regulation of adult hippocampal neurogenesis. More generally, our findings also describe how the external physical environment interacts with the internal genetic environment to produce different responses to the same behavioral stimuli.
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