Intact neurogenesis is required for benefits of exercise on spatial memory but not motor performance or contextual fear conditioning in C57BL/6J mice

P. J. Clark, W. J. Brzezinska, M. W. Thomas, N. A. Ryzhenko, S. A. Toshkov, J. S. Rhodes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The mammalian hippocampus continues to generate new neurons throughout life. Experiences such as exercise, anti-depressants, and stress regulate levels of neurogenesis. Exercise increases adult hippocampal neurogenesis and enhances behavioral performance on rotarod, contextual fear and water maze in rodents. To directly test whether intact neurogenesis is required for gains in behavioral performance from exercise in C57BL/6J mice, neurogenesis was reduced using focal gamma irradiation (3 sessions of 5 Gy). Two months after treatment, mice (total n=42 males and 42 females) (Irradiated or Sham), were placed with or without running wheels (Runner or Sedentary) for 54 days. The first 10 days mice received daily injections of bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) to label dividing cells. The last 14 days mice were tested on water maze (two trials per day for 5 days, then 1 h later probe test), rotarod (four trials per day for 3 days), and contextual fear conditioning (2 days), then measured for neurogenesis using immunohistochemical detection of BrdU and neuronal nuclear protein (NeuN) mature neuronal marker. Consistent with previous studies, in Sham animals, running increased neurogenesis fourfold and gains in performance were observed for the water maze (spatial learning and memory), rotarod (motor performance), and contextual fear (conditioning). These positive results provided the reference to determine whether gains in performance were blocked by irradiation. Irradiation reduced neurogenesis by 50% in both groups, Runner and Sedentary. Irradiation did not affect running or baseline performance on any task. Minimal changes in microglia associated with inflammation (using immunohistochemical detection of cd68) were detected at the time of behavioral testing. Irradiation did not reduce gains in performance on rotarod or contextual fear, however it eliminated gain in performance on the water maze. Results support the hypothesis that intact exercise-induced hippocampal neurogenesis is required for improved spatial memory, but not motor performance or contextual fear in C57BL/6J mice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1048-1058
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 9 2008


  • exercise
  • hippocampus
  • irradiation
  • learning
  • mice
  • neurogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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