Effects of different forms of environmental enrichment on behavioral, endocrinological, and immunological parameters in male mice

Vera Marashi, Angelika Barnekow, Edith Ossendorf, Norbert Sachser
Hormones and Behavior 2003, 43 (2): 281-92
This study investigated effects of different forms of environmental enrichment on behavioral, endocrinological, and immunological parameters in male mice. For this purpose, animals of the inbred strain CS were kept in groups of four males under three different housing conditions: (A) nonstructured Makrolon type III laboratory cages ("standard-housing" = S); (B) equivalent laboratory cages that were enriched with a box and a scaffolding ("enriched-housing" = E); and (C) spacious terraria that were structured richly ("super-enriched-housing" = SE). Both forms of enrichment caused a sharp rise in aggressive behavior, though play behavior was increased in E and SE mice, too. Levels of sociopositive behaviors in S and SE mice were higher than those in E mice. Plasma corticosterone concentrations and adrenal tyrosine hydroxylase activities were significantly increased in male mice kept in both forms of enriched cages, indicating an activation of the pituitary-adrenocortical and the adrenomedullary systems. The behavioral and endocrinological differences were partly reflected by immunological parameters: SE mice had levels of IgG1 and ratios of IFN-gamma/IL-10 and IL-2/IL-10 significantly lower than those of S mice. Ratios of IgG2a/IgG1 were significantly higher in SE mice. The absolute percentages of CD8 cells in E-mice were significantly lower than those in S mice. Despite the elevated levels of stress hormones under both forms of enriched housing, the behavioral parameters also indicate positive effects of the enrichment, especially on SE animals. Obviously, an environmental enrichment is beneficial for male mice as long as the spatial conditions are generous enough to allow coping with the increased aggression brought about by the enrichment.

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