Food and Behaviour Research

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Vitamin C deficiency in early postnatal life impairs spatial memory and reduces the number of hippocampal neurons in guinea pigs.

Tveden-Nyborg P, Johansen LK, Raida Z, Villumsen CK, Larsen JO, Lykkesfeldt J. (2009) Am J Clin Nutr. 90(3) 540-6. Epub 2009 Jul 29. 

Abstract:

BACKGROUND: The neonatal brain is particularly vulnerable to imbalances in redox homeostasis because of rapid growth and immature antioxidant systems. Vitamin C has been shown to have a key function in the brain, and during states of deficiency it is able to retain higher concentrations of vitamin C than other organs. However, because neurons maintain one of the highest intracellular concentrations of vitamin C in the organism, the brain may still be more sensitive to deficiency despite these preventive measures.

OBJECTIVE: The objective was to study the potential link between chronic vitamin C deficiency and neuronal damage in newborn guinea pigs.

DESIGN: Thirty 6- to 7-d-old guinea pigs were randomly assigned to 2 groups to receive either a vitamin C-sufficient diet or the same diet containing a low concentration of vitamin C (but adequate to prevent scurvy) for 2 mo. Spatial memory was assessed by the Morris Water Maze, and hippocampal neuron numbers were quantified by stereologic techniques.

RESULTS: The results showed a reduction in spatial memory (P < 0.05) and an increased time to first platform hit (P < 0.05) in deficient animals compared with controls. The deficient animals had a lower total number of neurons in hippocampal subdivisions (dentate gyrus, cornu ammonis 1, and cornu ammonis 2-3) than did the normal controls (P < 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS: Our data show that vitamin C deficiency in early postnatal life results in impaired neuronal development and a functional decrease in spatial memory in guinea pigs. We speculate that this unrecognized effect of vitamin C deficiency may have clinical implications for high-risk individuals, such as in children born from vitamin C-deficient mothers.

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

The importance of Vitamin C for brain development and function has been given relatively little attention, despite the fact that the brain normally contains high concentrations of Vitamin C.

In this study, Vitamin C deficiency in newborns was associated with significant impairments in spatial memory performance and impaired brain development in regions well known to be important for memory.

See also: Tveden-Nyborg & Lykkesfeldt 2009 - Does vitamin C deficiency result in impaired brain development in infants?