Rationale: Flavonoid-rich foods have been shown to be able to reverse age-related cognitive deficits in memory and learning in both animals and humans. However, to date, there have been only a limited number of studies investigating the effects of flavonoid-rich foods on cognition in young/healthy animals.
Objectives: The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of a blueberry-rich diet in young animals using a spatial working memory paradigm, the delayed non-match task, using an eight-arm radial maze. Furthermore, the mechanisms underlying such behavioural effects were investigated.
Results: We show that a 7-week supplementation with a blueberry diet (2 % w/w) improves the spatial memory performance of young rats (2 months old). Blueberry-fed animals also exhibited a faster rate of learning compared to those on the control diet. These behavioural outputs were accompanied by the activation of extracellular signal-related kinase (ERK1/2), increases in total cAMP-response element-binding protein (CREB) and elevated levels of pro- and mature brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus. Changes in hippocampal CREB correlated well with memory performance. Further regional analysis of BDNF gene expression in the hippocampus revealed a specific increase in BDNF mRNA in the dentate gyrus and CA1 areas of hippocampi of blueberry-fed animals.
Conclusions: The present study suggests that consumption of flavonoid-rich blueberries has a positive impact on spatial learning performance in young healthy animals, and these improvements are linked to the activation of ERK-CREB-BDNF pathway in the hippocampus.