Environmental enrichment and the combined interventions of EE and metformin enhance hippocampal neuron survival and hippocampal-dependent memory in type 2 diabetic rats under stress through the BDNF-TrkB signaling pathways

Teh Rasyidah Ismail, Christina Gertrude Yap, Rakesh Naidu, Lugganya Shri, Narendra Pamidi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Background: Type 2 diabetes (T2D) with depression causes severe cognitive impairments. The devastating conditions will further compromise the overall quality of life. The overconsumption of high-fat and high-sucrose (HFS) diet is one of the modifiable risk factors for T2D, depression, and cognitive impairments. Thus, it is essential to identify effective therapeutic strategies to overcome the cognitive impairments in T2D with depression. We proposed environmental enrichment (EE) which encompasses social, cognitive, and physical components as the alternative treatment for such impairments. We also investigated the potential neuroprotective properties of the antidiabetic drug metformin. This study aimed to investigate the effects of EE and metformin interventions on hippocampal neuronal death, and hippocampal-dependent memory impairment in T2D rats under stress. Methods: Thirty-two male rats (200–250 g) were divided into four groups: C group (standard diet + conventional cage), DS group [HFS-induced T2D + restraint stress (RS)], DSE group [HFS-induced T2D + RS + EE] and DSEM group [HFS + RS + EE + metformin]. Serum corticosterone (CORT) was measured to evaluate stress levels. The serum Free Oxygen Radicals Testing (FORT) and Free Oxygen Radicals Defence Test (FORD) were measured to evaluate the systemic oxidative status (OS). Serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and T-maze tasks were performed to evaluate cognitive functions. Rats were humanely sacrificed to collect brains for histological, morphometric, and hippocampal gene expression studies. Results: The CORT and the serum FORT levels in the DSE and DSEM groups were lower than in the DS group. Meanwhile, the serum BDNF, T-maze scores, histological, and morphometric analysis were improved in the DSE and DSEM groups than in the DS group. These findings supported that EE and the combined interventions of EE and metformin had neuroprotective properties. The hippocampal gene expression analysis revealed that the DSE and DSEM groups showed improved regulation of BDNF-TrkB signalling pathways, including the BDNF/TrkB binding, PI3K – Akt pathway, Ras–MAPK pathway, PLCγ–Ca2+ pathway, and CREB transcription. Conclusion: EE and the combined interventions of EE and metformin improved hippocampal neuron survival and hippocampal-dependent memory in T2D rats under stress by enhancing gene expression regulation of neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116729
Number of pages13
JournalBiomedicine & Pharmacotherapy
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2024


  • BDNF-TrkB signalling pathways
  • Depression, Neuroprotection
  • Environmental enrichment
  • Metformin
  • Type 2 diabetes

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