Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes, red wine, peanuts and some berries.
A number of previous studies have already earmarked it as an agent for lowering cholesterol and the risk of coronary heart disease.
Now, US researchers say resveratrol may help prevent age-related decline in memory, because it encourages the continued growth of neurons in the hippocampus.
Ability to make spatial memories
In the study, spatial learning and memory formation in rats was investigated.
The rats, aged 23 months old at the start of the study (late middle age), were given either a vehicle or resveratrol for four weeks.
Both groups were taught how to locate the position of a submerged platform during training sessions. This was followed by a four week waiting period.
At both the start and end of the study a water maze test was carried out (to assess their ability to make new spatial memories).
Control rats, who did not receive resveratrol, maintained a similar level of spatial learning ability throughout the study. However, their ability to make new spatial memories dropped significantly.
The resveratrol rats showed improvements in both spatial learning and memory.
Hippocampus and aging
The hippocampus, a region of the brain, is vital for functions such as learning, memory and mood. In an aging hippocampus, the decline of neuron development is one of the structural changes.
It is believed the decline of neuron development contributes to memory and mood dysfunction.
As well as showing improvements in spatial learning and memory, resveratrol rats in the study also showed increased growth and development of neurons (neurogenesis) – around double that of control rats. They also had improved microvasculature – indicating improved blood flow – and less inflammation in the hippocampus.
“The results of this study provide new evidence that resveratrol treatment in late middle age can positively modulate the structure and function of the aged hippocampus,” wrote Ashok Shetty, one of the authors.
“The beneficial functional effects included improved ability for spatial learning, preserved proficiency for making new spatial memory, and alleviation of depressive-like behavior associated with aging.
“Because decreases in neurogenesis [and other structural changes] during aging can adversely affect cognitive and mood function, the structural plasticity mediated by resveratrol in the aged hippocampus have likely contributed greatly towards beneficial functional effects.”
Further studies will look at the molecular mechanisms underneath improved cognitive function from resveratrol treatment. Researchers will also investigate whether lower doses of resveratrol over a long period of time would offer the same benefits.
Title: ‘Resveratrol Prevents Age-Related Memory and Mood Dysfunction with Increased Hippocampal Neurogenesis and Microvasculature, and Reduced Glial Activation’
Authors: Kodali, M; Parihar V.K.; Hattiangady, B.; Mishra, V.; Shuai, B.; Shetty, A.K.
Source: Scientific Reports, January 28, 2015. DOI: 10.1038/srep08075