Mechanisms by Which Early Nutrition Influences Spatial Memory, Adult Neurogenesis, and Response to Hippocampal Injury

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Altered dietary availability of the vital nutrient choline during early development leads to persistent changes in brain and behavior throughout adulthood. Prenatal choline supplementation during embryonic days (ED) 12-17 of the rodent gestation period enhances memory capacity and precision and hippocampal plasticity in adulthood, and protects against spatial learning and memory deficits shortly after excitotoxic seizures, whereas prenatal choline deficiency can compromise hippocampal memory and plasticity in adulthood. Recent evidence from our laboratory has determined that lifelong proliferation of newborn neurons in the adult hippocampus, a feature of adult hippocampal plasticity that has been implicated in some aspects of learning and memory, is modulated by early choline availability. Prenatal choline's effects on adult neurogenesis may be one mechanism for diet-induced cognitive changes throughout life and in response to injury, although little is known about the mechanisms underlying how prenatal choline alters adult neurogenesis or the neural mechanisms underlying prenatal choline supplementation's protection against cognitive deficits after seizures. To address these issues, the present set of experiments investigated how prenatal choline availability modulates specific properties of neurogenesis in the adult brain (in the intact brain and in response to injury), as well as hippocampal markers known to change in response to excitotoxin-induced seizures, and sought to relate changes in neurogenesis and in neuropathological markers following injury to changes in performance on spatial learning and memory tasks. Subjects in each experiment were adult offspring from rat dams that received either a control diet or diet supplemented with choline chloride or deficient of choline on ED 12-17. To measure neurogenesis, rats were given injections of the mitotic marker bromodeoxyurdine to label dividing cells in the hippocampus. Prenatal choline supplementation enhanced several properties of basal adult hippocampal neurogenesis (cell division and survival, neural stem/progenitor cell phenotype and proliferative capacity, trophic support), and this increase was associated with improvements in spatial working memory retention in a delayed-matching-to-place water maze task. In contrast, prenatal choline deficiency had little effect on basal adult hippocampal neurogenesis, and no effect on spatial memory performance. Prenatal choline supplementation also enhanced olfactory bulb neurogenesis without altering cell proliferation in the subventricular zone, while prenatal choline deficiency had no effect on either measure, showing for the first time that prenatal choline's effects on adult neurogenesis is similarly expressed in another distinct neurogenic region of the adult brain. Altered prenatal choline availability also modulated the hippocampal response to kainic acid-induced seizures where supplementation attenuated while deficiency had no effect on the injury-induced proliferative response of the dentate gyrus shortly after injury. Prenatal choline supplementation also attenuated other markers of hippocampal neuropathology shortly after seizures and promoted the long-term hippocampal recovery from seizures months after injury, including rescuing declines in adult hippocampal neurogenesis and in spatial memory performance in a standard water maze task. Taken together, these findings demonstrate a robust neuroprotective effect of prenatal choline supplementation that may be driven by enhanced adult hippocampal plasticity and trophic support prior to injury, and shed light on the mechanisms underlying how prenatal choline availability alters adult hippocampal neurogenesis, which may contribute to changes in memory capacity and precision both throughout life and following neural assault.





Wong-Goodrich, Sarah Jeanne Evens (2010). Mechanisms by Which Early Nutrition Influences Spatial Memory, Adult Neurogenesis, and Response to Hippocampal Injury. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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