Enriched environment attenuates enhanced trait anxiety in association with normalization of aberrant neuro-inflammatory events


  • A. Sah
  • S. Rooney
  • M. Kharitonova
  • S.B. Sartori
  • S.A. Wolf
  • N. Singewald


  • International Journal of Molecular Sciences


  • Int J Mol Sci 23 (21): 13052


  • Neuroinflammation is discussed to play a role in specific subgroups of different psychiatric disorders, including anxiety disorders. We have previously shown that a mouse model of trait anxiety (HAB) displays enhanced microglial density and phagocytic activity in key regions of anxiety circuits compared to normal-anxiety controls (NAB). Using minocycline, we provided causal evidence that reducing microglial activation within the dentate gyrus (DG) attenuated enhanced anxiety in HABs. Besides pharmacological intervention, “positive environmental stimuli”, which have the advantage of exerting no side-effects, have been shown to modulate inflammation-related markers in human beings. Therefore, we now investigated whether environmental enrichment (EE) would be sufficient to modulate upregulated neuroinflammation in high-anxiety HABs. We show for the first time that EE can indeed attenuate enhanced trait anxiety, even when presented as late as adulthood. We further found that EE-induced anxiolysis was associated with the attenuation of enhanced microglial density (using Iba-1 as the marker) in the DG and medial prefrontal cortex. Additionally, EE reduced Iba1 + CD68+ microglia density within the anterior DG. Hence, the successful attenuation of trait anxiety by EE was associated in part with the normalization of neuro-inflammatory imbalances. These results suggest that pharmacological and/or positive behavioral therapies triggering microglia-targeted anti-inflammatory effects could be promising as novel alternatives or complimentary anxiolytic therapeutic approaches in specific subgroups of individuals predisposed to trait anxiety.