Vegetable hormone helps reverse brain alterations caused by high-fat diets, obesity

The Neurobiotechnology research team of the Universitat Jaume I (UJI) in Castellón, Spain, headed by professor Ana María Sánchez, has proven the positive effects of a vegetable hormone, helping reverse brain alterations caused by high-fat diets, type-2 diabetes, obesity and physical inactivity. The results of this work, developed by the Health Sciences Department, have been published in the Molecular Neurobiology journal.

"We have verified how a vegetable hormone, abscisic acid, is able to counter the deleterious effects that a high-fat diet has on the central nervous system," explains Ana María Sánchez. By making use of this molecule, expressed in plants, on an animal model with neuroinflammation induced by a high-fat diet, the results of the study "have shown that the alterations on the expression of some genes would be reversed, as well as alterations in the creation process of new neurons - neurogenesis -, while we also noted a decrease of the inflammation markers in the brain," adds the UJI professor.

Alzheimer's disease and other dementias

The UJI neurobiotechnology professors believe that acquiring further knowledge on neuroinflammation is a 'priority' public health matter, as high-fat and sugary diets combined with a lack of physical exercise lead to metabolic syndrome and neuroinflammation. This "leads to degenerative processes which can eventually cause diseases as severe as Alzheimer's disease and other dementias", cautions Sánchez.

The study carried out in the UJI analyzed the expression of several genes related to the insulin signaling pathway together with the expression of genes which act as neuroinflammation markers with quantitative PCR. This way, as researcher Alberto Ribes Navarro argues, "we have been able to prove that the expression of proteins required for the proper functioning of insulin (the IRS) decreases in neuroinflammatory situations induced by a high-fat diet." "With the addition of abscisic acid to the high-fat diet it is possible to recover the expression of these genes, even reaching normal levels", he adds.

Alteration of the role of insulin

The latest research of the neurobiotechnology group of the UJI has shown that the vegetable hormone abscisic acid "reduces inflammation levels in the brain, as measures with various techniques and in different cerebral areas," says researcher Sandra Sánchez-Sarasúa, adding that with a high-fat diet they noticed alterations to cognitive functions, which were also recovered with the vegetable hormone treatment. Furthermore, "with protein level analysis techniques we observed that neuroinflammation alters the expression of specific genes and that abscisic acid restores it to normal levels, confirming the results obtained with the RNA analysis," concludes Sánchez-Sarasúa.

The results of this work reveal new data for the research into the causes of several neuroinflammatory diseases and insulin resistance. Therefore, one of the objectives of this UJI team is to be able to replicate the insulin resistance model in an animal model, through the regulation of insulin signaling using viral particles, as it is key in these neurodegenerative processes.

The UJI neurobiotechnology research group, headed by professor Ana Sánchez, is focused on the study of the mechanisms through which neurodegenerative diseases develop. Specifically, diseases such as Alzheimer's, where there is a resistance to cerebral insulin and neuroinflammation.

They also study the signaling of insulin and similar peptides, as well as their effect on behavior. In this context, they are also working on the creation of viral particles modified with biotechnology in order to modulate in vivo the genetic expression.

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