Italian researchers have shown that mice with retinitis pigmentosa raised in an enriched environment for one year had slower retinal degeneration than mice reared in a typical laboratory setting.
The mice living in the enriched conditions had twice as many cone cells, the cells that provide central, color and detailed vision, and the cones were healthier. The scientists believe that these study results can be translated to humans.
Environmental enrichment for the mice included larger cages, running wheels, nesting material and companionship from “helper” female mice in addition to their biological mothers. The mice were also given objects that were changed twice a week to stimulate curiosity and exploration.
The investigators believe that exercise, stimulation, social activity and reduction in stress lead to an increase in the production of neurotrophic factors, proteins that keep cells of the brain, nervous system and retina healthy.