Cerebellar compensation is a reliable model of lesion-induced plasticity occurring through profound synaptic and neurochemical modifications in cortical and sub-cortical regions. As the recovery from cerebellar deficits progresses, the firstly enhanced glutamate striatal transmission is then normalized. The time course of cerebellar compensation and the concomitant striatal modifications might be influenced by protocols of environmental enrichment (EE) differently timed in respect to cerebellar lesion. In the present study, we analyzed the effects of different EE protocols on postural and locomotor behaviors (by means of a neurological rating scale), and on striatal synaptic activity (by means of recordings of spontaneous glutamate-mediated excitatory postsynaptic currents (sEPSCs)) and on morphological correlates (by means of density and dendritic length of Fast Spiking (FS) interneurons) following hemicerebellectomy (HCb) in rats. Cerebellar motor deficits were reduced faster in the enriched animals in comparison to standard housed HCbed rats. The beneficial influence of EE was higher in the animals enriched before the HCb than in rats enriched only after the lesion. In parallel, the HCb-induced increase in striatal sEPSCs was not observed in rats enriched before HCb and attenuated in rats enriched after HCb. Furthermore, the EE prevented the shrinkage of dendritic arborization of FS striatal interneurons. Also this effect was more marked in animals enriched before than after the HCb. The exposure to EE exerted either neuro-protective or therapeutic actions on the cerebellar deficits. The experience-dependent changes of the synaptic and neuronal connectivity observed in the striatal neurons may represent one of the mechanisms through which the enrichment facilitates functional compensation following the cerebellar damage. © 2010 Elsevier Inc.
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