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Environmental enrichment reverses learning impairments caused by lead poisoning

to these rats were raised in standard-sized laboratory cages that the researchers designated as "isolated environment." To measure the learning ability of rats in the various treatment groups, the researchers trained each rat to find a submerged, invisible platform in a pool of water, called the water maze. Each day of training, they timed how long each rat took to find the platform. They observed that both the lead-exposed and control rats living in the enriched environment learned to find the platform in 20 seconds or less within the four-day training period. The isolated control rats took longer to find the platform, while lead-exposed isolated rats took the longest and nearly 50 percent of them failed to learn the test by the last day of training.

Along with the enhanced learning performance of lead-exposed rats reared in an enriched environment, the researchers found a recovery in the levels of the NR1 subunit of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) in the hippocampus. The NR1 subunit is obligatory for functional NMDAR and these researchers have previously shown that lead targets the NMDAR. The hippocampus is a brain region important for learning and memory. Previous research has determined that the NR1 subunit is essential for learning performance in the water maze.

"We all recognize that children that are intellectually stimulated have a greater capacity to learn. Unfortunately, often times the same children that are exposed to lead, also live in impoverished and neglected homes. It seems, that based on our study, many lead-exposed children would benefit from this type of therapeutic approach," said Dr. Guilarte.

"Environmental Enrichment Reverses Cognitive and Molecular Deficits Induced by Developmental Lead Exposure" was written by Toms R. Guilarte, PhD, Christopher D. Toscano, MS, Jennifer L. McGlotham, MS, and Shelly A. Weaver, PhD. It is published in the December 2002 edition of the Annals of Neurology.


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Contact: Tim Parsons
paffairs@jhsph.edu
410-955-6878
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health
26-Nov-2002


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