Peg Forest Rehabilitation Mitigates the Onset of Injury-Induced Cognitive Disability in Juvenile Rats
Traumatic brain injury (TBI)—sudden impact or acceleration trauma to the head—is a major cause of death and disability worldwide and is particularly amplified in pediatric cases. TBI is the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in children and adolescents. Adolescence is a critical time where the brain undergoes cognitive development and brain injury-induced disruptions to these processes can lead to life-long debilitating morbidities. The aim of this study was to determine if exercising spatial and contextual memory circuits using a novel rehabilitation strategy called Peg Forest Rehabilitation (PFR) could mitigate the onset of injury-induced cognitive deficits in juvenile rats subjected to diffuse TBI. The PFR aims to synthesize neuroplasticity-based enrichment to improve cognitive outcomes after TBI. We hypothesized that PFR treatment would mitigate the onset of brain injury-induced cognitive deficits and reduce neuroinflammation. Juvenile male Sprague-Dawley rats (post-natal day 35) were subjected to diffuse traumatic brain injury via midline fluid percussion injury or a control surgery. One-week post-injury, rats were exposed to PFR or cage control exploration (15 min/day). PFR allowed free navigation through random configuration of the peg-filled arena for 10 days over 2 weeks. Control rats remained in home cages in the center of the arena with the peg-board removed for 15 min/day/10 days. One-week post-rehabilitation (one-month post-injury), cognitive performance was assessed for short-term (novel object recognition; NOR), long-term (novel location recognition; NLR), and working (temporal order recognition; TOR) memory performance, calculated as a discrimination index between novel and familiar objects. Tissue was collected for immunohistochemistry and stained for ionized calcium binding proteins (Iba-1) to visualize microglia morphology, and somatostatin. PFR attenuated TBI-induced deficits on the NOR task, where the TBI-PFR treatment group spent significantly more time with the novel object compared with the familiar (*p=0.0046). Regardless of rehabilitation, brain-injured rats had hyper-ramified microglia in the hypothalamus indicated by longer branch lengths and more endpoints per cell compared with uninjured shams. Analysis of somatostatin data is ongoing. In this study, passive, intermittent PFR that involved dynamic, novel spatial navigation, prevented TBI-induced cognitive impairment in adolescent rats. Spatial navigation training may have clinical efficacy and should be further investigated.