Food and Behaviour Research

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Short exposure to a diet rich in both fat and sugar or sugar alone impairs place, but not object recognition memory in rats.

Beilharz J E, Maniam J, Morris M J (2013) Brain Behav Immun. 2013 Dec 3. pii: S0889-1591(13)00575-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2013.11.016.    

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High energy diets have been shown to impair cognition however, the rapidity of these effects, and the dietary component/s responsible are currently unclear.

We conducted two experiments in rats to examine the effects of short-term exposure to a diet rich in sugar and fat or rich in sugar on object (perirhinal-dependent) and place (hippocampal-dependent) recognition memory, and the role of inflammatory mediators in these responses.

In Experiment 1, rats fed a cafeteria style diet containing chow supplemented with lard, cakes, biscuits, and a 10% sucrose solution performed worse on the place, but not the object recognition task, than chow fed control rats when tested after 5, 11, and 20days.

In Experiment 2, rats fed the cafeteria style diet either with or without sucrose and rats fed chow supplemented with sucrose also performed worse on the place, but not the object recognition task when tested after 5, 11, and 20days.

Rats fed the cafeteria diets consumed five times more energy than control rats and exhibited increased plasma leptin, insulin and triglyceride concentrations; these were not affected in the sucrose only rats.

Rats exposed to sucrose exhibited both increased hippocampal inflammation (TNF-α and IL-1β mRNA) and oxidative stress, as indicated by an upregulation of NRF1 mRNA compared to control rats. In contrast, these markers were not significantly elevated in rats that received the cafeteria diet without added sucrose. Hippocampal BDNF and neuritin mRNA were similar across all groups.

These results show that relatively short exposures to diets rich in both fat and sugar or rich in sugar, impair hippocampal-dependent place recognition memory prior to the emergence of weight differences, and suggest a role for oxidative stress and neuroinflammation in this impairment.


For a news article summarising this research study and its implications, see:

'Junk food can harm memory in a week'