Western diets induce blood-brain barrier leakage and alter spatial strategies in rats

Behav Neurosci. 2016 Feb;130(1):123-35. doi: 10.1037/bne0000110. Epub 2015 Nov 23.


Western diet (WD) intake induces obesity and metabolic dysfunction. The present study examined the effects of WD on hippocampal-dependent cognitive functioning and blood-brain barrier (BBB) permeability as a function of exposure duration, obesity phenotype, and peripheral markers of energy regulation. The use of hippocampal-dependent "place" or hippocampal-independent "response" strategies in a Y maze was assessed in male rats following 10, 40, and 90 days of WD exposure in diet-induced obese (DIO) rats, in diet resistant (DR) rats that are relatively insensitive to the obesogenic properties of WD, and in chow-fed controls. Insulin, glucose, and BBB permeability throughout several loci in the hippocampus, striatum, and cerebellum were evaluated in relation to duration of WD exposure, obesity phenotype, and type of strategy used. DIO rats had increased body weight and adiposity throughout the study, and elevated 10-day glucose and 90-day insulin levels. Throughout the study, chow-fed and DR rats reliably relied on a place strategy. DIO rats, in contrast, favored a response strategy at the 10- and 90-day time points. BBB leakage was observed in the dorsal striatum and multiple subregions of the hippocampus of DIO, but not DR or chow-fed rats. Increased ventral hippocampal BBB permeability and blood glucose levels were associated with reduced place strategy use. These data indicate that WD-induced BBB leakage is dependent on duration of diet exposure as well as obesity phenotype, and implicates BBB leakage and impaired glucoregulation in behavioral strategy and cognitive performance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue
  • Adiposity / physiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / physiopathology*
  • Body Weight / physiology*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology
  • Cues
  • Diet, Western / adverse effects*
  • Food Deprivation / physiology
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Spatial Learning / physiology*
  • Time Factors