Cognition and Synaptic-Plasticity Related Changes in Aged Rats Supplemented with 8- and 10-Carbon Medium Chain Triglycerides

PLoS One. 2016 Aug 12;11(8):e0160159. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0160159. eCollection 2016.


Brain glucose hypometabolism is a common feature of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Previous studies have shown that cognition is improved by providing AD patients with an alternate energy source: ketones derived from either ketogenic diet or supplementation with medium chain triglycerides (MCT). Recently, data on the neuroprotective capacity of MCT-derived medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) suggest 8-carbon and 10-carbon MCFA may have cognition-enhancing properties which are not related to ketone production. We investigated the effect of 8 week treatment with MCT8, MCT10 or sunflower oil supplementation (5% by weight of chow diet) in 21 month old Wistar rats. Both MCT diets increased ketones plasma similarly compared to control diet, but MCT diets did not increase ketones in the brain. Treatment with MCT10, but not MCT8, significantly improved novel object recognition memory compared to control diet, while social recognition increased in both MCT groups. MCT8 and MCT10 diets decreased weight compared to control diet, where MCFA plasma levels were higher in MCT10 groups than in MCT8 groups. Both MCT diets increased IRS-1 (612) phosphorylation and decreased S6K phosphorylation (240/244) but only MCT10 increased Akt phosphorylation (473). MCT8 supplementation increased synaptophysin, but not PSD-95, in contrast MCT10 had no effect on either synaptic marker. Expression of Ube3a, which controls synaptic stability, was increased by both MCT diets. Cortex transcription via qPCR showed that immediate early genes related to synaptic plasticity (arc, plk3, junb, egr2, nr4a1) were downregulated by both MCT diets while MCT8 additionally down-regulated fosb and egr1 but upregulated grin1 and gba2. These results demonstrate that treatment of 8- and 10-carbon length MCTs in aged rats have slight differential effects on synaptic stability, protein synthesis and behavior that may be independent of brain ketone levels.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Carbon / chemistry*
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Ketones / metabolism
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects*
  • Plant Oils / chemistry
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Triglycerides / pharmacology*


  • Biomarkers
  • Ketones
  • Plant Oils
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Triglycerides
  • Carbon

Grants and funding

ESM and DW are employees of Nestle Institute of Health Sciences, a for-profit institution, and received support in the form of salaries. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.