Obesity and neuroinflammation: a pathway to cognitive impairment

Brain Behav Immun. 2014 Nov:42:10-21. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2014.04.001. Epub 2014 Apr 12.


Obesity is a growing problem worldwide and is associated with a range of comorbidities, including cognitive dysfunction. In this review we will address the evidence that obesity and high fat feeding can lead to cognitive dysfunction. We will also examine the idea that obesity-associated systemic inflammation leads to inflammation within the brain, particularly the hypothalamus, and that this is partially responsible for these negative cognitive outcomes. Thus, obesity, and high fat feeding, lead to systemic inflammation and excess circulating free fatty acids. Circulating cytokines, free fatty acids and immune cells reach the brain at the level of the hypothalamus and initiate local inflammation, including microglial proliferation. This local inflammation likely causes synaptic remodeling and neurodegeneration within the hypothalamus, altering internal hypothalamic circuitry and hypothalamic outputs to other brain regions. The result is disruption to cognitive function mediated by regions such as hippocampus, amygdala, and reward-processing centers. Central inflammation is also likely to affect these regions directly. Thus, central inflammation in obesity leads not just to disruption of hypothalamic satiety signals and perpetuation of overeating, but also to negative outcomes on cognition.

Keywords: Cognition; High fat diet; Hypothalamus; Inflammation; Obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / immunology
  • Cognition Disorders / metabolism
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / immunology*
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Inflammation / complications*
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / immunology
  • Obesity / metabolism