Researchers use dietary supplement to re-energize aging brains in animal model.


The human brain has a prodigious demand for energy, it uses 20 to 30% of the body’s energy budget. In the course of normal aging, in people with neurodegenerative diseases or mental disorders, or in periods of physiological stress, the supply of sugars to the brain may be reduced. This has been shown to lead to reduced neural energy reserves, which in turn can lead to cognitive decline and loss of memory.

Now, a study from researchers at the University of Eastern Finland shows that the brain’s energy reserves can be increased with a daily dose of pyruvate, a small energy-rich molecule that sits at the hub of most of the energy pathways inside the cell.  The team state that their findings show that long-term dietary supplementation with pyruvate increases the energy reserves in the brain, at least in mice, in the form of the molecules glycogen, creatine and lactate.  The opensource study is published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Previous studies show that multiple neuroprotective effects of pyruvate after systemic administration have been reported in animal models in the cases of brain injury, ischemia, glutamate neurotoxicity, hemorrhagic shock, hydrogen peroxide-induced cell death, oxygen-glucose deprivation, cognitive impairment due to hypoglycemia, ethanol-induced neurodegeneration, and zinc-induced cortical neuronal death.  Earlier studies from the researchers show that 5-week dietary supplementation with pyruvate + β-hydroxybutyrate orally reversed impaired tolerance of mice to hypoglycemia, normalized their reduced brain glycogen stores, and enhanced neuronal excitability both in vitro and in vivo. Pilot studies showed a similar effect can be obtained by pyruvate supplementation alone. These findings raised the question whether oral pyruvate supplementation could also provide a means to counteract aging.  The current study shows that dietary supplementation with pyruvate increases the brain’s energy stores and changed the behaviour of a mouse-model in positive ways.

The current study uses multiple metabolic assay tests to show that chronic supplementation with pyruvate facilitated the spatial learning of middle-aged mice in behavioural tests.  Results show that the mice became more energetic and increased their exploration-activity when dosed with pyruvate. Data findings from metabolic assays ultimately detected increases in the brain energy metabolism after pyruvate supplementation, confirming that even oral pyruvate administration can affect the brain energy status provided that the duration of the treatment is long enough.

Results show that the positive response to dietary supplementation with pyruvate was also found in a strain of transgenic mice called APPswe/PS1dE9, often used as an animal model for the study of Alzheimer’s disease.  The researchers state that these results raise hopes that pyruvate might also benefit people with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The team surmise that pyruvate supplementation may prove beneficial as an activating treatment for the elderly and in therapies for alleviating cognitive decline due to aging, neurodegenerative disease, or mental disorders. For the future, the researchers state that it is well tolerated and warrants further studies in humans.

Source: University of Eastern Finland

Metabolic assessment of brain glycogen levels. (C,D) Representative PAS-stained sections through the mid-hippocampus after conversion to grayscale. Chronic Pyruvate Supplementation Increases Exploratory Activity and Brain Energy Reserves in Young and Middle-Aged Mice. Tanila et al 2016.

Metabolic assessment of brain glycogen levels. (C,D) Representative PAS-stained sections through the mid-hippocampus after conversion to grayscale. Chronic Pyruvate Supplementation Increases Exploratory Activity and Brain Energy Reserves in Young and Middle-Aged Mice. Tanila et al 2016.

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