Hippocampal Morphology in a Rat Model of Depression: The Effects of Physical Activity

Adam Sierakowiak *, 1, Anna Mattsson 2, Marta Gómez-Galán 2, Teresa Feminía 2, Lisette Graae 2, Sahar Nikkhou Aski 3, Peter Damberg 3, Mia Lindskog 2, Stefan Brené 1, Elin Åberg 4
1 Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden
2 Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden
3 Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology (CLINTEC), Karolinska Institutet, Sweden
4 AstraZeneca Translational Science Centre, Personalised Healthcare & Biomarkers, AstraZeneca R&D Innovative Medicines, Solna, Sweden and Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Science for Life Laboratory, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden

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© Sierakowiak et al.; Licensee Bentham Open.

open-access license: This is an open access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the work is properly cited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Karolinska University Hospital Solna, KERIC, L3:00, SE-171 76 Stockholm, Sweden; Tel: +46 (0)73-703 5030; E-mail:


Accumulating in vivo and ex vivo evidences show that humans suffering from depression have decreased hippocampal volume and altered spine density. Moreover, physical activity has an antidepressant effect in humans and in animal models, but to what extent physical activity can affect hippocampal volume and spine numbers in a model for depression is not known.

In this study we analyzed whether physical activity affects hippocampal volume and spine density by analyzing a rodent genetic model of depression, Flinders Sensitive Line Rats (FSL), with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and ex vivo Golgi staining.

We found that physical activity in the form of voluntary wheel running during 5 weeks increased hippocampal volume. Moreover, runners also had larger numbers of thin spines in the dentate gyrus. Our findings support that voluntary wheel running, which is antidepressive in FSL rats, is associated with increased hippocampal volume and spine numbers.

Keywords: Animal model, dendrite morphology, flinders sensitive line rats, hippocampus, major depression, MRI, volume based morphometry..