It is known that positive effects of regular aerobic exercise on cognitive functions in humans and also animals; but how to the effects of aerobic exercise in adolescent period is unknown. The present study examined the effects of regular aerobic exercise on spatial memory using the Morris water maze, cell density and apoptosis of hippocampus in adolescent rats. Twenty-two days of age male rats were run on a treadmill for 30 min/session at a speed of 8 m/min and 0 degrees slope, five times a week for 8 weeks. The present study showed that exercise induced significant cognitive improvement throughout brain maturation in rats. The number of hippocampal CA1 and CA3 neurons, and gyrus dentatus neurons were significantly increased in the exercised rats. There was no significant difference of CA2 neuron density between exercise and control groups. There was no significantly differences in any groups according to the results of apoptosis that account of TUNEL positive cells. The present results suggest that regular moderate aerobic treadmill exercise benefit in cognitive functions. This result may derive from treadmill exercise-induced increase cell density without altering of apoptosis in the hippocampus and dentate gyrus of adolescent rats. (c) 2005 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.