Further clarification is needed to address the paradox that memory formation, aging and neurodegeneration all involve calcium influx, oxyradical production (ROS) and activation of certain signaling pathways. In aged rats and in APP/PS-1 mice, cognitive and hippocampal Ca(2+) dysregulation was reversed by food supplementation with a high antioxidant blueberry extract. Here, we studied whether neurons were an important target of blueberry extract and whether the mechanism involved altered ROS signaling through MAP kinase and cyclic-AMP response element binding protein (CREB), pathways known to be activated in response to amyloid-beta (Aβ). Primary hippocampal neurons were isolated and cultured from embryonic, middle-age or old-age (24 months) rats. Blueberry extract was found to be equally neuroprotective against Aβ neurotoxicity at all ages. Increases in Aβ toxicity with age were associated with age-related increases in immunoreactivity of neurons to pERK and an age-independent increase in pCREB. Treatment with blueberry extract strongly inhibited these increases in parallel with neuroprotection. Simultaneous labeling for ROS and for glutathione with dichlorofluorescein and monochlorobimane showed a mechanism of action of blueberry extract to involve transient ROS generation with an increase in the redox buffer glutathione. We conclude that the increased age-related susceptibility of old-age neurons to Aβ toxicity may be due to higher levels of activation of pERK and pCREB pathways that can be protected by blueberry extract through inhibition of both these pathways through an ROS stress response. These results suggest that the beneficial effects of blueberry extract may involve transient stress signaling and ROS protection that may translate into improved cognition in aging rats and APP/PS1 mice given blueberry extract.
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