Home / News
Members of the Tarantini lab stand together: Stefano Tarantini, PhD, Sharon Negri, PhD, Madison Milan, Helen Shi, MDEffects on blood vessels may help explain links between diet, obesity and cognitive decline

Long Beach, Calif. (April 5, 2024)—A new study conducted in mice traces how obesity and a high-fat diet may accelerate aging in the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. The work is being presented this week at the American Physiology Summit, the flagship annual meeting of the American Physiological Society (APS), in Long Beach, California.

The findings suggest that obesity and a poor diet can cause damage to accumulate in the blood vessels, reducing the supply of oxygen to parts of the brain and ultimately leading to cognitive decline. The study could help scientists find ways to intervene and preserve brain function in people with obesity, which is estimated to affect about 42% of U.S. adults.

“This project highlights the critical roles of vascular components and cellular aging in cognitive deterioration, pinpointing novel potential therapeutic targets for dementia prevention and treatment,” said Sharon Negri, PhD, the study’s first author and a postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Stefano Tarantini, PhD, in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Previous research has found strong links between mid-life obesity and an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia later in life. The scientists sought to uncover the mechanisms behind this association, with a particular focus on the role of diet and vascular health.

To do this, the researchers studied the impact of a high-fat diet on blood flow to the brain and memory performance in aged obese mice. By using a special mouse model, they were also able to measure cellular senescence, a process when cells stop dividing and making new cells. Cellular senescence increases with aging and contributes to a variety of aging-associated diseases.

“Obesity may cause the cells in blood vessels in the brain to age faster and reach senescence,” Negri said. “If a link between obesity and cellular senescence is established, it could open up new lines of investigation aimed at exploring therapeutic avenues to prevent or slow down the progression of senescence, with the potential to mitigate obesity-related health issues, including cognitive decline.”

The results showed that after three months, mice fed a high-fat diet had increased cellular senescence and reduced density of healthy blood vessels in the brain, as well as evidence of impaired learning in a maze test, compared with normal-weight mice fed a standard diet. In addition, the scientists found that removing the senescent cells using Navitoclax, an investigational cancer drug that selectively kills senescent cells, improved features of the brain vasculature.

If further experiments confirm that it is possible to reverse the detrimental effects of senescence, Negri and Tarantini next plan to evaluate whether various lifestyle interventions could help to prevent or reduce obesity-induced cognitive impairment.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: The American Physiology Summit will be held April 4–7, 2024, in Long Beach, California. To schedule an interview with the researchers, conference organizers or presenters, contact APS Media Relations or call 301.634.7314. Find more highlights from the meeting in our Summit Newsroom.

Physiology is a broad area of scientific inquiry that focuses on how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. The American Physiological Society connects a global, multidisciplinary community of more than 10,000 biomedical scientists and educators as part of its mission to advance scientific discovery, understand life and improve health. The Society drives collaboration and spotlights scientific discoveries through its 16 scholarly journals and programming that support researchers and educators in their work.

Related Content

Contact Us

For questions, comments or to share your story ideas, email us.