J Vis Exp. 2015 Jan 20;(95). doi: 10.3791/52329.
Long-lasting changes in the brain or ‘brain plasticity’ underlie adaptive behavior and brain repair following disease or injury. Furthermore, interactions with our environment can induce brain plasticity. Increasingly, research is trying to identify which environments stimulate brain plasticity beneficial for treating brain and behavioral disorders.
Two environmental manipulations are described which increase or decrease the number of tyrosine hydroxylase immunopositive (TH+, the rate-limiting enzyme in dopamine (DA) synthesis) neurons in the adult mouse midbrain. The first comprises pairing male and female mice together continuously for 1 week, which increases midbrain TH+ neurons by approximately 12% in males, but decreases midbrain TH+ neurons by approximately 12% in females.
The second comprises housing mice continuously for 2 weeks in ‘enriched environments’ (EE) containing running wheels, toys, ropes, nesting material, etc., which increases midbrain TH+ neurons by approximately 14% in males.
Additionally, a protocol is described for concurrently infusing drugs directly into the midbrain during these environmental manipulations to help identify mechanisms underlying environmentally-induced brain plasticity. For example, EE-induction of more midbrain TH+ neurons is abolished by concurrent blockade of synaptic input onto midbrain neurons. Together, these data indicate that information about the environment is relayed via synaptic input to midbrain neurons to switch on or off expression of ‘DA’ genes.
Thus, appropriate environmental stimulation, or drug targeting of the underlying mechanisms, might be helpful for treating brain and behavioral disorders associated with imbalances in midbrain DA (e.g. Parkinson’s disease, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia, and drug addiction).