Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Extra Choline During Pregnancy Enhances Memory In Offspring

Date:
April 9, 1998
Source:
Duke University Medical Center
Summary:
Pregnant rats fed extra doses of an essential nutrient called choline produced offspring whose brain circuits were "wired" to learn and remember far more efficiently than offspring without the supplement, according to a study at Duke University Medical Center.

DURHAM, N.C. -- Pregnant rats fed extra doses of an essential nutrient called choline produced offspring whose brain circuits were "wired" to learn and remember far more efficiently than offspring without the supplement, according to a study at Duke University Medical Center.

Conversely, analysis of brain slices of the offspring of rats deprived of choline indicated a decrease in memory capability.

The researchers said it is the first time that a common food nutrient has been shown to cause permanent brain changes in regions responsible for learning and memory. The findings could have important implications -- especially for pregnant women and their children -- if choline proves to have the same memory-enhancing effect in humans, a theory for which considerable evidence already exists, the researchers said.

Choline is a naturally occurring amino acid found in egg yolks, milk, nuts, liver and other meats as well as in human breast milk. It is the essential building block for a memory-forming brain chemical called acetylcholine, and it plays a vital role in the formation of cell membranes throughout the body.

The Duke researchers found that brain circuits of choline-supplemented rats were built to accept and retain new information more efficiently than rats that received normal or substandard amounts of choline prenatally. And that memory enhancement endured until the rats were 4 months old -- the equivalent of early adulthood in humans.

Specifically, the research showed that choline enhanced a brain function called long-term potentiation (LTP), in which the act of receiving an electrical stimulus or "message" actually paves a pathway allowing future messages to reach the nerve cell more easily -- similar to the way that rain water creates a furrow through soil upon repeated downpours, enabling even a small trickle to find its way more easily.

If further research confirms the findings in humans, then choline could potentially be used to ensure normal memory function in the population at large through a modest change in diet, said Scott Swartzwelder, a neuropsychologist at Duke and the Durham VA Medical Center and lead author of the study. Results of his study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, will be published in the April issue of the journal of Neurophysiology.

"The ramifications of this research could be profound, because we've found that manipulating one single nutrient for a few days during gestation has a lifelong effect on brain function," Swartzwelder said. "In theory, we could develop ways to significantly reduce age-related memory deficits."

Swartzwelder said the amount of choline the pregnant rats received was well within normal limits -- about three times more than the control group received. The only time they received additional choline was during a five-day period -- days 12 through 17 -- of their 22-day gestation period. The control group received a normal dietary amount of choline, and a third group was virtually deprived of choline.

Not surprisingly, Swartzwelder said, the brains of choline-deprived rats were slower to engage the process of LTP and required a much larger stimulus to initiate LTP than the other rats.

While Swartzwelder's research is not the first to demonstrate choline's effects on memory, his is the first study reported to pinpoint the specific brain process that choline enhances.

In previous choline studies conducted at Duke, researchers showed that rats exposed to choline prenatally were better able to learn and remember the location of food in a maze, as well as to locate and swim to safety on a hidden platform in a water-filled maze. And, their memory abilities lasted well into old age. That research, conducted by Christina Williams and Warren Meck of Duke -- both co-authors of the current study -- was among the first to show that choline has a behavioral effect on memory in animals.

But until now, there has never been a physiologic explanation as to why these behavior changes occurred, said Williams, chair of the department of psychology at Duke. So, based on her behavioral studies, Swartzwelder set out to explain how choline alters memory function. By analyzing brain slices from the offspring of rats in each group, Swartzwelder showed that rats deprived of choline prenatally did not respond to even the largest electrical stimulus applied to their brain's hippocampus -- the region where LTP occurs. But the offspring of choline-supplemented animals responded very quickly and easily to the smallest electrical stimulus, indicating their hippocampus was primed to learn.

"What this suggests is an actual change in brain circuitry brought about by added choline during a critical window of prenatal development," Swartzwelder said. "The brains of choline-supplemented rats have a greater plasticity, or an ability to change and react to stimuli more readily than other rats."

Precisely why LTP occurs more readily in the choline-supplemented rats is unclear, Swartzwelder said. But there are several likely scenarios. One hypothesis is that extra choline permanently alters the developing brain circuits so they are built with either more acetylcholine receptors, or they have a greater capacity to produce acetylcholine.

A second possibility is that something inside individual nerve cells is altered to respond to acetylcholine more readily, regardless of the amount of acetylcholine present. In yet a third scenario, researchers hypothesize that there is no significant change in acetylcholine brain circuitry. Rather, choline affects a completely different neurotransmitter system, such as glutamate.

Swartzwelder said the next step is to examine the biochemistry within the various brain circuits to see which neurotransmitter systems are likely to play a role in enhancing LTP.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Duke University Medical Center. "Extra Choline During Pregnancy Enhances Memory In Offspring." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 April 1998. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/04/980409080807.htm>.
Duke University Medical Center. (1998, April 9). Extra Choline During Pregnancy Enhances Memory In Offspring. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/04/980409080807.htm
Duke University Medical Center. "Extra Choline During Pregnancy Enhances Memory In Offspring." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/04/980409080807.htm (accessed August 22, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Friday, August 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Lost Brain Cells To Blame For Sleep Problems Among Seniors

Lost Brain Cells To Blame For Sleep Problems Among Seniors

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) According to a new study, elderly people might have trouble sleeping because of the loss of a certain group of neurons in the brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Newsy (Aug. 20, 2014) A new study found couples who had at least 150 guests at their weddings were more likely to report being happy in their marriages. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

AP (Aug. 20, 2014) Nine years after Hurricane Katrina, charter schools are the new reality of public education in New Orleans. The state of Louisiana took over most of the city's public schools after the killer storm in 2005. (Aug. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

AP (Aug. 19, 2014) Four Texas high school football programs are trying out an experimental system designed to diagnose concussions on the field. The technology is in response to growing concern over head trauma in America's most watched sport. (Aug. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins