High-fat diets induce changes in hippocampal glutamate metabolism and neurotransmission

Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Feb 15;302(4):E396-402. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00343.2011. Epub 2011 Nov 22.


Obesity and high-fat (HF) diets have a deleterious impact on hippocampal function and lead to impaired synaptic plasticity and learning deficits. Because all of these processes need an adequate glutamatergic transmission, we have hypothesized that nutritional imbalance triggered by these diets might eventually concern glutamate (Glu) neural pathways within the hippocampus. Glu is withdrawn from excitatory synapses by specific uptake mechanisms involving neuronal (EAAT-3) and glial (GLT-1, GLAST) transporters, which regulate the time that synaptically released Glu remains in the extracellular space and, consequently, the duration and location of postsynaptic receptor activation. The goal of the present study was to evaluate in mouse hippocampus the effect of a short-term high-fat dietary treatment on 1) Glu uptake kinetics, 2) the density of Glu carriers and Glu-degrading enzymes, 3) the density of Glu receptor subunits, and 4) synaptic transmission and plasticity. Here, we show that HF diet triggers a 50% decrease of the Michaelis-Menten constant together with a 300% increase of the maximal velocity of the uptake process. Glial Glu carriers GLT-1 and GLAST were upregulated in HF mice (32 and 27%, respectively), whereas Glu-degrading enzymes glutamine synthase and GABA-decarboxilase appeared to be downregulated in these animals. In addition, HF diet hippocampus displayed diminished basal synaptic transmission and hindered NMDA-induced long-term depression (NMDA-LTD). This was coincident with a reduced density of the NR2B subunit of NMDA receptors. All of these results are compatible with the development of leptin resistance within the hippocampus. Our data show that HF diets upregulate mechanisms involved in Glu clearance and simultaneously impair Glu metabolism. Neurochemical changes occur concomitantly with impaired basal synaptic transmission and reduced NMDA-LTD. Taken together, our results suggest that HF diets trigger neurochemical changes, leading to a desensitization of NMDA receptors within the hippocampus, which might account for cognitive deficits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects*
  • Down-Regulation
  • Glutamate-Ammonia Ligase / metabolism
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Glutamic Acid / physiology
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Leptin / blood
  • Long-Term Synaptic Depression
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Overweight / blood
  • Overweight / etiology*
  • Receptors, Glutamate / analysis
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Leptin
  • NR2B NMDA receptor
  • Receptors, Glutamate
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Glutamate-Ammonia Ligase