UT Dallas researcher finds link between high-fat diet and impaired short-term memory

Erica Underwood, an applied cognition and neuroscience doctoral student, noticed that after three months of the high-fat diet, the rats suffered both physiological and behavioral impairment.
Erica Underwood, an applied cognition and neuroscience doctoral student, noticed that after three months of the high-fat diet, the rats suffered both physiological and behavioral impairment. | Contributed photo
University of Texas at Dallas researcher Erica Underwood has found some interesting results in her experiments on how a high-fat diet can affect memory.

Underwood’s work at UT Dallas’ Aging & Memory Research Laboratory has shown evidence that short-term exposure to a high-fat diet can lead to a downturn in learning ability and memory. It also found that memory performance can recover over a longer period of time of with the same high-fat diet.

The study focuses on rats that were fed high-fat content food. Underwood, an applied cognition and neuroscience doctoral student, noticed that after three months of the high-fat diet, the rats suffered both physiological and behavioral impairment compared to their behavior before the tests.

Three months of the diet resulted in a lower functioning hippocampus, which is the most important section of the brain for creating memories. Behaviorally, Underwood found that the rats lost a great deal of spatial memory capacity.

After a year, the impairment of the hippocampus got worse, but the behavior issues of not being able to remember things went away.

“Other factors behind the impairment must be recovering in the long term,” Underwood said. “That’s the beautiful thing about the brain. It can often recover or find alternate routes to allow normal function in spite of impairment.”

Underwood’s results were published in the journal Neural Plasticity and received high marks at the Society for Neuroscience’s most recent meeting in Chicago.

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University of Texas at Dallas

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