High consumption of fruits and vegetables has been associated with reduced risk of debilitating diseases and improved cognition in aged populations. These beneficial effects have been attributed to the phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables, which have previously been shown to be anti-inflammatory and modulate autophagy. Tart cherries contain a variety of potentially beneficial phytochemicals; however, little research has been done to investigate the effects of tart cherry on the aging brain. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine if tart cherry supplementation can improve cognitive and motor function of aged rats via modulation of inflammation and autophagy in the brain. Thirty 19-month-old male Fischer 344 rats were weight-matched and assigned to receive either a control diet or a diet supplemented with 2 % Montmorency tart cherry. After 6 weeks on the diet, rats were given a battery of behavioral tests to assess for strength, stamina, balance, and coordination, as well as learning and working memory. Although no significant effects were observed on tests of motor performance, tart cherry improved working memory of aged rats. Following behavioral testing, the hippocampus was collected for western/densitometric analysis of inflammatory (GFAP, NOX-2, and COX-2) and autophagy (phosphorylated mTOR, Beclin 1, and p62/SQSTM) markers. Tart cherry supplementation significantly reduced inflammatory markers and improved autophagy function. Daily consumption of tart cherry reduced age-associated inflammation and promoted protein/cellular homeostasis in the hippocampus, along with improvements in working memory. Therefore, addition of tart cherry to the diet may promote healthy aging and/or delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases.
Keywords: Aging; Autophagy; Cherry; Inflammation; Memory; Montmorency tart cherries.