|Life Extension Update Exclusive |
Prenatal choline supplements super-charge young brains
Researchers from Duke University Medical Center and the Durham, North Carolina Veteran’s Administration Medical Center have found that the B vitamin choline given to pregnant laboratory animals vastly improved the neurologic function of their offspring compared to normal young. The Duke scientists are part of a national team who are investigating the effects of prenatal supplementation with choline on memory and learning. The study will be published in the April 2004 issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology.
The team, led by Duke University and Durham VA researcher Qiang Li, MD, fed pregnant rats extra choline during a critical period of their pregnancies and studied how the hippocampal neurons of their young differed from those of a control group. They discovered that the neurons were larger and had a greater number of dendrites, which are the spiny protuberances that enable nerve cells to communicate. Additionally, the cells fired electrical signals more rapidly and for longer periods of time, as well as rebounded more easily from their resting phase. Senior author and Duke University neuropsychologist Scott Swartzwelder, PhD, explained, "Having more dendrites means that a neuron has more surface area to receive incoming signals. This could make it easier to push the neuron to the threshold for firing its signal to another neuron.”
Research conducted at the University of North Carolina has shown that choline adds a methyl group to a gene that inhibits cell division process in the brain’s memory centers, thereby switching the gene off. Other research has observed greater activation of two hippocampal proteins that participate in memory and learning in animals who received choline prenatally.
The research has profound implications for humans, because it suggests that enhancing the diet of pregnant women with choline could have a lifelong benefit on their children’s learning ability.
Dr Li summarized, "Previous studies at Duke have shown that choline-supplemented animals are smarter and have a greater learning capacity, but we hadn't known until now whether the cells that make up memory-relevant brain circuits are changed by choline. Choline didn't just change the general environment of the brain, it changed the fundamental building blocks of brain circuits -- the cells themselves."