The importance of environment in the regulation of brain, behaviour and physiology has long been recognized in biological, social and medical sciences. Animals maintained under enriched conditions have clearly been shown to have better learning abilities than those maintained under standard conditions. However, the effects of environmental enrichment (EE) on immunity and emotionality have been less documented and remain questionable. Therefore, we investigated the effect of EE on natural killer (NK) cell activity, psychological stress responses and behavioural parameters. Male C3H mice were housed either in enriched or standard conditions for 6 weeks. Behaviour was then examined by the grip-strength test, staircase and elevated plus maze, and corticosterone levels and NK cell activity were measured. Furthermore, animals exposed to the stress paradigm, achieved by electric shock with reminders, were tested for freezing time in each reminder. Corticosterone levels were also measured. The EE mice showed decreased anxiety-like behaviour and higher activity compared to standard mice, as revealed by a greater percentage of time spent in the open arms of the elevated plus maze, and a higher rate of climbing the staircase. A shorter freezing time in the stress paradigm and no corticosterone level reactivity were measured in EE mice. In addition, NK cell activity in spleens of EE mice was higher than that demonstrated in those of standard mice. Thus, EE has a beneficial effect on anxiety-like behaviour, stress response and NK cell activity. The effect on NK cell activity is promising, due to the role of NK cells in host resistance.
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