Mastication is an indispensable oral function related to physical, mental, and social health throughout life. The elderly tend to have a masticatory dysfunction due to tooth loss and fragility in the masticatory muscles with aging, potentially resulting in impaired cognitive function. Masticatory stimulation has influence on the development of the central nervous system (CNS) as well as the growth of maxillofacial tissue in children. Although the relationship between mastication and cognitive function is potentially important in the growth period, the cellular and molecular mechanisms have not been sufficiently elucidated. Here, we show that the reduced mastication resulted in impaired spatial memory and learning function owing to the morphological change and decreased activity in the hippocampus. We used an in vivo model for reduced masticatory stimuli, in which juvenile mice were fed with powder diet and found that masticatory stimulation during the growth period positively regulated long-term spatial memory to promote cognitive function. The functional linkage between mastication and brain was validated by the decrease in neurons, neurogenesis, neuronal activity, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) expression in the hippocampus. These findings taken together provide in vivo evidence for a functional linkage between mastication and cognitive function in the growth period, suggesting a need for novel therapeutic strategies in masticatory function-related cognitive dysfunction.
Keywords: growth and development; memory disorders; neurogenesis; neurotrophic factors; oral health; synapses.