This shows a pregnant woman holding an apple.
The researchers found that a molecule present in apples and herbs (basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage) helped reduce the breakdown of communication cables needed for the brain to work properly. Credit: Neuroscience News

Fruitful Discovery: Pregnancy Diet Influences Brain Health across Generations

Summary: A new study highlights that a mother’s diet during early pregnancy, specifically consumption of apples and herbs, may safeguard the brain health of her offspring and even grandchildren.

Using roundworms as a genetic model due to their genetic similarities to humans, the study identified a molecule in apples and herbs known as ursolic acid that helps maintain brain function by preventing the breakdown of axons. These axons, the communication cables in the brain, are strengthened by a particular fat induced by ursolic acid, which improves axon transport and overall health.

Although further research is needed to confirm these results in humans, this study emphasizes the role of maternal diet in determining brain health in future generations.

Key Facts:

  1. The Monash University study used roundworms as a genetic model, revealing that a molecule in apples and herbs called ursolic acid can help maintain the health of axons, the communication cables of the brain.
  2. Ursolic acid triggers the production of a particular type of fat, a sphingolipid, which improves axon transport and overall health, potentially safeguarding the brain’s function.
  3. The study indicates that a mother’s diet during pregnancy can impact not just her offspring’s brain health, but potentially that of subsequent generations as well.

Source: Monash University

Mothers who eat apples and herbs in early pregnancy could be protecting the brain health of their children and grandchildren, a Monash University study using genetic models has found.

The discovery is part of a project that found a mother’s diet can affect not just her child’s brain but also those of her grandchildren.

Published in Nature Cell Biology, the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute study found that certain foods could help protect against the deterioration of brain function.

More specifically, the study used roundworms (Caenorhabditis elegans) as the genetic model because many of their genes are also found conserved in humans, allowing insights into human cells.

The researchers found that a molecule present in apples and herbs (basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage) helped reduce the breakdown of communication cables needed for the brain to work properly.

Senior author Professor Roger Pocock and his team investigated nerve cells in the brain that connect and communicate with each other through about 850,000 kilometers of cables called axons. For axons to function and survive, essential materials need to be transported along an internal structure that contains microtubules.

Professor Pocock explained that a malfunction that caused the axons to become fragile led to brain dysfunction and neurodegeneration. He said his team used a genetic model with fragile axons that break as animals age. “We asked whether natural products found in the diet can stabilize these axons and prevent breakage,” he explained.

“We identified a molecule found in apples and herbs (ursolic acid) that reduces axon fragility. How? We found that ursolic acid causes a gene to turn on that makes a specific type of fat. This particular fat also prevented axon fragility as animals age by improving axon transport and therefore its overall health.”

Professor Pocock said this type of fat, known as a sphingolipid, had to travel from the mother’s intestine, where food is digested, to eggs in the uterus for it to protect axons in the next generation. He said while the results were promising, they still need to be confirmed in humans.

“This is the first time that a lipid/fat has been shown to be inherited,” he said. “Further, feeding the mother the sphingolipid protects the axons of two subsequent generations. This means a mother’s diet can affect not just their offspring’s brain but potentially subsequent generations. Our work supports a healthy diet during pregnancy for optimal brain development and health.”

About this diet and genetics research news

Author: Roger Pocock
Source: Monash University
Contact: Roger Pocock – Monash University
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
An intestinal sphingolipid confers intergenerational neuroprotection” by Roger Pocock et al. Nature Cell Biology


An intestinal sphingolipid confers intergenerational neuroprotection

In animals, maternal diet and environment can influence the health of offspring. Whether and how maternal dietary choice impacts the nervous system across multiple generations is not well understood.

Here we show that feeding Caenorhabditis elegans with ursolic acid, a natural plant product, improves axon transport and reduces adult-onset axon fragility intergenerational.

Ursolic acid provides neuroprotection by enhancing maternal provisioning of sphingosine-1-phosphate, a bioactive sphingolipid. Intestine-to-oocyte sphingosine-1-phosphate transfer is required for intergenerational neuroprotection and is dependent on the RME-2 lipoprotein yolk receptor.

Sphingosine-1-phosphate acts intergenerationally by upregulating the transcription of the acid ceramidase-1 (asah-1) gene in the intestine. Spatial regulation of sphingolipid metabolism is critical, as inappropriate asah-1 expression in neurons causes developmental axon outgrowth defects.

Our results show that sphingolipid homeostasis impacts the development and intergenerational health of the nervous system.

The ability of specific lipid metabolites to act as messengers between generations may have broad implications for dietary choice during reproduction.

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