British Journal of Nutrition

Review Article

Relationships between dietary macronutrients and adult neurogenesis in the regulation of energy metabolism

Marianne A. Yona1, Suzanna L. Maugera2 and Lucy C. Pickavancea1 c1

a1 Department of Obesity and Endocrinology, Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK

a2 School of Veterinary Science, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK


Of the environmental factors which have an impact on body weight, nutrients are most influential. Within normal limits, hypothalamic and related neuronal populations correct perturbations in energy metabolism, to return the body to its nutritional set-point, either through direct response to nutrients or indirectly via peripheral appetite signals. Excessive intake of certain macronutrients, such as simple carbohydrates and SFA, can lead to obesity and attendant metabolic dysfunction, also reflected in alterations in structural plasticity, and, intriguingly, neurogenesis, in some of these brain regions. Neurogenesis, previously thought to occur only in the embryo, is now known to take place in the adult brain, dependent on numerous stimulating and inhibiting factors, including dietary components. Because of classic associations between neurogenesis and the hippocampus, in learning and cognition, this brain region has also been the focus of attention in the study of links between diet and neurogenesis. Recently, however, a more complete picture of this relationship has been building: not only has the hypothalamus been shown to satisfy the criteria for a neurogenic niche, but appetite-related mediators, including circulating hormones, such as leptin and ghrelin, pro-inflammatory cytokines and the endocannabinoid intracellular messengers, are also being examined for their potential role in mediating neurogenic responses to macronutrients. The present review draws together these observations and investigates whether PUFA may exert their attenuating effects on body weight through the stimulation of adult neurogenesis. Exploration of the effects of nutraceuticals on neurogenic brain regions may encourage the development of new rational therapies in the fight against obesity.

(Received August 03 2012)

(Revised November 27 2012)

(Accepted November 30 2012)

(Online publication February 25 2013)

Key Words:

  • Macronutrients;
  • Adult neurogenesis;
  • High-fat diets;
  • PUFA


c1 Corresponding author: Dr L. C. Pickavance, fax +44 151 706 4080, email


  Abbreviations: BBB, blood–brain barrier; BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor; CNTF, ciliary neurotrophic factor; DG, dentate gyrus; FA, fatty acid; GPR, G-protein-coupled receptor; HFD, high-fat diet; NPC, neural progenitor cell; NSC, neural stem cell; PACAP, pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide; pCREB, phosphorylated cyclic AMP response element-binding protein; RAR, retinoic acid receptor; SVZ, subventricular zone