Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Research Article

Food for thought: the role of dietary flavonoids in enhancing human memory, learning and neuro-cognitive performance

Symposium on ‘Diet and mental health’

on 16–19 July 2007, The Summer Meeting of the Nutrition Society, was held at the University of Ulster, Coleraine, hosted by the Irish Section.

Jeremy P. E. Spencera1 c1

a1 Molecular Nutrition Group, School of Chemistry, Food Biosciences and Pharmacy, University of Reading, Reading RG2 6AP, UK

Abstract

Emerging evidence suggests that dietary-derived flavonoids have the potential to improve human memory and neuro-cognitive performance via their ability to protect vulnerable neurons, enhance existing neuronal function and stimulate neuronal regeneration. Long-term potentiation (LTP) is widely considered to be one of the major mechanisms underlying memory acquisition, consolidation and storage in the brain and is known to be controlled at the molecular level by the activation of a number of neuronal signalling pathways. These pathways include the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase/protein kinase B/Akt (Akt), protein kinase C, protein kinase A, Ca–calmodulin kinase and mitogen-activated protein kinase pathways. Growing evidence suggests that flavonoids exert effects on LTP, and consequently memory and cognitive performance, through their interactions with these signalling pathways. Of particular interest is the ability of flavonoids to activate the extracellular signal-regulated kinase and the Akt signalling pathways leading to the activation of the cAMP-response element-binding protein, a transcription factor responsible for increasing the expression of a number of neurotrophins important in LTP and long-term memory. One such neurotrophin is brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is known to be crucial in controlling synapse growth, in promoting an increase in dendritic spine density and in enhancing synaptic receptor density. The present review explores the potential of flavonoids and their metabolite forms to promote memory and learning through their interactions with neuronal signalling pathways pivotal in controlling LTP and memory in human subjects.

Correspondence:

c1 Corresponding author: Dr Jeremy P. E. Spencer, fax +44 118 931 0080, email j.p.e.spencer@reading.ac.uk