Rats that consume high-energy (HE) diets (i.e., diets high in saturated fats and sugar) show impaired hippocampal-dependent learning and memory (e.g., Kanoski and Davidson (2011) ). To further investigate this effect, we trained rats given restricted access to low-fat lab chow on hippocampal-dependent serial feature-negative (FN) and hippocampal-independent simple discrimination problems. When training was completed, Group Chow received ad libitum lab chow. The remaining rats received ad libitum HE diet. Performance on both discrimination problems was tested following 7, 14, 21 and 28 days of HE diet exposure. FN, but not simple discrimination, was abolished initially for all rats, and then re-emerged for Group Chow. For rats fed HE diet, those that weighed the least and had the lowest amount of body fat (HE-diet resistant (HE-DR) rats), performed like Group Chow on both discrimination problems. However, HE diet-induced obese (HE-DIO) rats (i.e., rats that weighed the most weight and had the most body fat) performed like Group Chow on the simple discrimination problem, but were impaired throughout testing on the FN problem. Subsequent assessment of blood-brain barrier (BBB) permeability revealed that concentrations of an exogenously administered dye were elevated in the hippocampus, but not in the striatum or prefrontal cortex for HE-DIO rats relative to the HE-DR and Chow groups. The results indicate that the adverse consequences of HE diet on hippocampal-dependent cognitive functioning are associated with detrimental effects on the BBB and that both of these outcomes vary with sensitivity to HE diet-induced increases in weight and adiposity.
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