Food and Behaviour Research

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Preventing adolescent stress-induced cognitive and microbiome changes by diet

Provensi G, Schmidt SD, Boehme M, Bastiaanssen TFS, Rani B, Costa A, Busca K, Fouhy F, Strain C, Stanton C, Blandina P, Izquierdo I, Cryan JF, Passani MB (2019) Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.  2019 Apr.  pii: 201820832. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1820832116. [Epub ahead of print] 

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Psychological stress during adolescence may cause enduring cognitive deficits and anxiety in both humans and animals, accompanied by rearrangement of numerous brain structures and functions. A healthy diet is essential for proper brain development and maintenance of optimal cognitive functions during adulthood. Furthermore, nutritional components profoundly affect the intestinal community of microbes that may affect gut-brain communication.

We adopted a relatively mild stress protocol, social instability stress, which when repeatedly administered to juvenile rats modifies cognitive
behaviors and plasticity markers in the brain. We then tested the preventive effect of a prolonged diet enriched with the ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid, docosahexaenoic acid, and docosapentaenoic acid and vitamin A.

Our findings highlight the beneficial effects of this enriched 
diet on cognitive memory impairment induced by social instability stress, as stressed rats fed the enriched diet exhibited performance undistinguishable from that of nonstressed rats on both emotional and reference memory tests. Furthermore, in stressed rats, the decline in brain-derived neurotrophic factor expression in the hippocampus and shifts in the microbiota composition were normalized by the enriched diet. The detrimental behavioral and neurochemical effects of adolescent stress, as well as the protective effect of the enriched diet, were maintained throughout adulthood, long after the exposure to the stressful environment was terminated.

Taken together, our results strongly suggest a beneficial role of nutritional components in ameliorating stress-related behaviors and associated neurochemical and microbiota 
changes, opening possible new venues in the field of nutritional neuropsychopharmacology.