Effects of adolescent experience of food restriction and exercise on spatial learning and open field exploration of female rats

Tara G. Chowdhury, André A. Fenton, Chiye Aoki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The hippocampus carries out multiple functions: spatial cognition dorsally (DH) and regulation of emotionality-driven behavior ventrally (VH). Previously, we showed that dendrites of DH and VH pyramidal neurons of female rats are still developing robustly during adolescence and are altered by the experience of food restriction and voluntary exercise on a wheel. We tested whether such anatomical changes during adolescence impact anxiety-like behavior and spatial cognition. Four groups of female rats were evaluated for these behaviors: those with wheel access in its cage from postnatal day (P) 36–44 (EX); those with food access restricted to 1 hr per day, from P40 to 44 (FR); those with EX from P36 to 44, combined with FR from P40 to 44, which we will refer to as EX + FR; and controls, CON (no EX, no FR). Open field test for anxiety-like behavior and active place avoidance test for spatial cognition were conducted at P47–49, the age when food restricted animals have restored body weight, or at P54–56, to identify more enduring effects. Anxiety-like behavior was elevated for the EX and FR groups at P47–49 but not for the EX + FR group. By P54–56, the EX + FR and EX groups exhibited less anxiety-like behavior, indicating a beneficial delayed main effect of exercise. There was a beneficial main effect of food restriction upon cognition, as the FR group showed cognition superior to CONs' at P44–46 and P54–56, while the EX + FR animals also showed enhanced spatial learning at P54–56. EX + FR animals with best adaptation to the feeding schedule showed the best spatial learning performance but with a delay. The EX group exhibited only a transient improvement. These findings indicate that FR, EX, and EX + FR in mid-adolescence are all beneficial in reducing anxiety-like behavior and improving spatial cognition but with subtle differences in the timing of their manifestation, possibly reflecting the protracted maturation of the hippocampus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)170-188
Number of pages19
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • active place avoidance
  • activity-based anorexia
  • anxiety
  • cognition
  • exploratory behavior
  • female
  • hippocampus
  • hyperactivity
  • open field test
  • rats

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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