The Frontal Cortex

Brain Diseases and Environment

An excellent review has just been published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience on the relationship between enriched environments and the onset and severity of nervous system diseases. A consensus seems to be emerging: putting rodents in enriched environments – cages with space for foraging, toys and social interaction – not only delays disease but reduces the symptoms. The list of diseases for which this effect has been verified is staggering. It reads like a who’s who of neural nightmares: Alzheimers, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, stroke, traumatic brain injury, Fragile X syndrome and Down syndrome.

How do enriched environments help mitigate the effects of disease? No one quite knows, but scientists are learning that more complex environments create more complex brains. The mind is like a muscle:

Studies investigating the effects of differential housing showed that enrichment altered cortical weight and thickness. Subsequently, various studies have shown that enrichment increases dendritic spines and the size of synapses on some neuronal populations. Furthermore, enrichment increases hippocampal neurogenesis and the integration of these newly born cells into functional circuits.

One leading theory is that having more neuronal connections and dendritic spines simply means that you are able to lose more neurons before you notice the loss. Enriched environments, then, act like a buffer. While they don’t prevent disease, they do slow the damage.

It’s also worth noting that many of these enriched environment studies show more profound and consistent benefits than just about any drug that has been approved by the FDA for these brain diseases. If we had a pill that could do half of what enriched environments can do, I’m sure we would all be popping them like candy. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to prescribe a pill than fix our public schools.


  1. #1 marsha howland
    June 23, 2007

    i have my mother on nemenda and razadyne. she is getting not better. i was wondering if you took a sibblings brain cells if this could help them? i would be willing to try. i know cortex is the memoey part or would not be suggesting this,but if a sibbling is a match, would it not be possible to transfer the brain matter [cellls] needed to help them? worth a try in my mind. just a suggesation. a small amount of brain cells may bring them back, for awhile longer, to live the rest of there lives to the fullest and give peace of mind to the family. i would givew my life for my mother , but am running out of options. please help me, i think it is worth a try, don’t you?

  2. #2 marsha howland
    June 23, 2007

    madame currie made penacillin, took a chance,it was pretty much cure all. matter of fact they don’t use it much anymore. for finacinal benifits. it is a cure all. insurance companys and doctors do not like this. MONEY! that is why there is no more new cures. the lost of pharmacitacals would be to great. i know there are cures out there. you all are holding the cure. GIVE IT TO US PLEASE1 IT IS NOT FAIR TO HOLD THIS ALL BACK. it is time for not money, BUT HELP. to the people that need it sincerely marsha howland

  3. #3 marsha howland
    June 23, 2007

    i posted my comment and you have twice. get with it. i know i am serious? YOU?

  4. #4 A Key
    December 6, 2007

    The enriched environment concept may contribute to more parents buying excessive toys for the child, but reading to the child was not mentioned, a far more enriching experience, as reading to rodents seems foolish, which is why you cannot effectively compare rodents to humans.

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