Life of luxury boosts brain power

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The Independent Online
Being pampered when young is good for your brain - at least, if you're a mouse. Mice reared in big cages and given plenty of nesting material, snacks, and toys such as tunnels and wheels to play with, had more developed brains than those brought up in a barren, deprived environment, according to research, published today in the science journal Nature.

The hippocampus - the part of the brain that deals with learning and memory - had on average 15 per cent more neurons in the "enriched" mice than those brought up in dull surroundings. They also performed better in tasks such as escaping a water-filled maze.

The group of 12 "standard" mice were brought up with four sharing a single bare cage. The other 12 were put in a specially designed cage with a square metre of ground area equipped with paper tubes, nesting material, a adjustable set of plastic tubes, a sisal tunnel with various openings and a running wheel.

As well as their normal food, the mice in the luxury cage were given extra treats including cheese, crackers, apples, popcorn, and whole-grain nibble bars. Charles Arthur