Early life Western diet-induced memory impairments and gut microbiome changes in female rats are long-lasting despite healthy dietary intervention

Nutr Neurosci. 2022 Dec;25(12):2490-2506. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2021.1980697. Epub 2021 Sep 27.


Objective: Western diet consumption during adolescence results in hippocampus (HPC)-dependent memory impairments and gut microbiome dysbiosis. Whether these adverse outcomes persist in adulthood following healthy dietary intervention is unknown. Here we assessed the short- and long-term effects of adolescent consumption of a Western diet enriched with either sugar or both sugar and fat on metabolic outcomes, HPC function, and gut microbiota.

Methods: Adolescent female rats (PN 26) were fed a standard chow diet (CHOW), chow with access to 11% sugar solution (SUG), or a junk food cafeteria-style diet (CAF) containing various foods high in fat and/or sugar. During adulthood (PN 65+), metabolic outcomes, HPC-dependent memory, and gut microbial populations were evaluated. In a subsequent experiment, these outcomes were evaluated following a 5-week dietary intervention where CAF and SUG groups were maintained on standard chow alone.

Results: Both CAF and SUG groups demonstrated impaired HPC-dependent memory, increased adiposity, and altered gut microbial populations relative to the CHOW group. However, impaired peripheral glucose regulation was only observed in the SUG group. When examined following a healthy dietary intervention in a separate experiment, metabolic dysfunction was not observed in either the CAF or SUG group, whereas HPC-dependent memory impairments were observed in the CAF but not the SUG group. In both groups the composition of the gut microbiota remained distinct from CHOW rats after the dietary intervention.

Conclusions: While the metabolic impairments associated with adolescent junk food diet consumption are not present in adulthood following dietary intervention, the HPC-dependent memory impairments and the gut microbiome dysbiosis persist.

Keywords: Obesity; adolescence; diet; high-fat diet; hippocampus; microbiota; object recognition; sugars.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects
  • Diet, Western / adverse effects
  • Dysbiosis / etiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome* / physiology
  • Memory Disorders / chemically induced
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sugars / adverse effects


  • Sugars