2014-2015 Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases Research Award*

Environmental Enrichment Reduces Postoperative Cognitive Dysfunction

VCoA*The Virginia Center on Aging which administers the Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases Research Award Fund for the Commonwealth of Virginia, provides seed money to researchers in Virginia to stimulate innovative research into biomedical and psychosocial aspects of dementia, including cell biology, caregiving, and animal modeling.


Environmental Enrichment Reduces Postoperative Cognitive Dysfunction

Zhiyi Zuo, PhD

University of Virginia

Postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) is a relatively new, but well-documented, syndrome affecting patients after heart and non-heart surgeries. About 10% elderly patients (age 60 years or older) have POCD three months after non-heart surgery. Currently, effective and clinically practical methods to reduce POCD are not established. Recent studies indicate that inflammation in the brain, an abnormal process for many chronic brain diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, may be involved in POCD. The investigator has preliminary data showing that environmental enrichment reduced post-surgery learning and memory impairment and enhanced brain cell regeneration in young adult mice. This new study will determine whether environmental enrichment after surgery can attenuate learning and memory impairment, reduce inflammation in the brain, and improve brain cell regeneration in aged mice. These studies will provide preclinical evidence for potentially using this non-pharmacological intervention to reduce POCD.

(Dr. Zuo may be contacted at 434/924-2283, zz3c@virginia.edu)

REPORT:

Postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) often occurs in patients 60 years of age or older.  It not only affects daily living, but also is associated with increased death after surgery.  Recent studies indicate that inflammation in the brain, an abnormal process for many chronic brain diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, may be involved in POCD.  This investigation employed environmental enrichment (EE) to test whether that non-pharmacological intervention could reduce POCD in aged mice. The results showed that EE reduced surgery-induced learning and memory impairment. The reduced brain cell generation needed for learning and memory was also attenuated after surgery. These results provide initial evidence to suggest that improved environment after surgery may be a potential way to reduce POCD. These data should help in the design of clinical studies to test the beneficial effects of EE in humans.

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