Research ArticleEVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY

Early-life environmental enrichment generates persistent individualized behavior in mice

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Science Advances  26 Aug 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 35, eabb1478
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb1478

Abstract

Individuals differ in their response to environmental stimuli, but the stability of individualized behaviors and their associated changes in brain plasticity are poorly understood. We developed a novel model of enriched environment to longitudinally monitor 40 inbred mice exploring 35 connected cages over periods of 3 to 6 months. We show that behavioral individuality that emerged during the first 3 months of environmental enrichment persisted when mice were withdrawn from the enriched environment for 3 additional months. Behavioral trajectories were associated with stable interindividual differences in adult hippocampal neurogenesis and persistent epigenetic effects on neuronal plasticity genes in the hippocampus. Using genome-wide DNA methylation sequencing, we show that one-third of the DNA methylation changes were maintained after withdrawal from the enriched environment. Our results suggest that, even under conditions that control genetic background and shared environment, early-life experiences result in lasting individualized changes in behavior, brain plasticity, and epigenetics.

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