Social isolation can exacerbate the negative consequences of stress and increase the risk of developing psychopathology. However, the influence of living alone on experiences generally considered to be beneficial to the brain, such as physical exercise, remains unknown. We report here that individual housing precludes the positive influence of short-term running on adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus of rats and, in the presence of additional stress, suppresses the generation of new neurons. Individual housing also influenced corticosterone levels—runners in both housing conditions had elevated corticosterone during the active phase, but individually housed runners had higher levels of this hormone in response to stress. Moreover, lowering corticosterone levels converted the influence of short-term running on neurogenesis in individually housed rats from negative to positive. These results suggest that, in the absence of social interaction, a normally beneficial experience can exert a potentially deleterious influence on the brain.
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The authors acknowledge the assistance of C. Gross, Y. Kozorovitskiy, B. Leuner and C. Mirescu in the preparation of this manuscript. This work was supported by a National Research Service Award predoctoral fellowship to A.S. and a National Institutes of Mental Health grant to E.G.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Differences in the amount of running do not explain differences in neurogenesis across housing conditions or glucocorticoid status. (PDF 18 kb)
The volume of the dentate gyrus increases with prolonged physical activity. (PDF 64 kb)
The increase in neurogenesis with short-term running in group-housed animals is sustained over longer periods of activity. (PDF 106 kb)
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Stranahan, A., Khalil, D. & Gould, E. Social isolation delays the positive effects of running on adult neurogenesis. Nat Neurosci 9, 526–533 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn1668
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