Early life anesthesia exposure results in long-term cognitive deficits in rats. Environmental enrichment consisting of social housing, a stimulating environment, and voluntary exercise can rescue this deficit. We hypothesized that exercise alone is sufficient to rescue the cognitive deficit associated with perinatal anesthesia.


Postnatal day 7 male rats (P7) underwent isoflurane (Iso) or sham exposure and were subsequently weaned at P21. They were then singly housed in a cage with a running wheel or a fixed wheel. After 3 weeks of exercise, animals underwent behavioral testing for spatial and recognition memory assessments. Animals were killed at various time points to accomplish either bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) labeling or quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) to quantify brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) levels.


Postweaning voluntary exercise rescued the long-term spatial memory deficit associated with perinatal Iso exposure. Iso-sedentary animals did not discriminate the goal quadrant, spending no more time than chance during the Barnes maze probe trial (1-sample t test, P = .524) while all other groups did (1-sample t test, PIso-exercise = .033; Pcontrol [Con]-sedentary = .004). We did not find a deficit in recognition memory tasks after Iso exposure as we observed previously. BrdU incorporation in the adult hippocampus of Iso-sedentary animals was decreased compared to sedentary controls (Tukey P = .005). Exercise prevented this decrease, with Iso-exercise animals having more proliferation than Iso-sedentary (Tukey P < .001). There was no effect of exercise or Iso on BDNF mRNA in either the cortex or hippocampus (cortex: FExercise[1,32] = 0.236, P = .631; FIso [1,32] = 0.038, P = .847; FInteraction [1,32] = 1.543, P = .223; and hippocampus: FExercise[1,33] = 1.186, P = .284; FIso [1,33] = 1.46, P = .236; FInteraction[1,33] = 1.78, P = .191).


Exercise restores BrdU incorporation and rescues a spatial memory deficit after early life anesthesia exposure. This demonstrates sufficiency of exercise alone in the context of environmental enrichment to recover a behavioral phenotype after a perinatal insult.

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