This abstract is from VIEW, a quarterly magazine produced by Danone’s medical research center. Danone collaborates with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to determine how medical nutrition can play a role in the treatment and progression of disease, such as Alzheimer’s.
Interview with Dr. Richard J. Wurtman, MD
The field of medical nutrition is expanding by leaps and bounds. Dr. Richard Wurtman, Cecil H. Green Distinguished Professor of Neuropharmacology and Health Sciences and Technology, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Boston, USA) shared his insights on the latest discoveries in this dynamic sector.
R.W.: The brain has all of the nutritional needs as the rest of the body. Deficiencies in several nutrients – like B vitamins, glucose, essential fatty acids, or protein – can impair brain function and cause well-established syndromes.
But the brain is different from other organs in that it has a special dependence on nutrient intake. This is because many of the enzymes that the brain uses to convert nutrients to essential products have low affinities for these nutrients. If more of the nutrient is provided – usually by eating it – the brain rapidly proceeds to make more of the product.
Brain cells, called neurons, communicate with each other through synapses located at the end of the neurons. These synapses release messenger molecules (neurotransmitters) to transmit the message to the next cell. Specific nutritional ingredients can influence the ability of neurons to synthesize neurotransmitters, thus rapidly affecting the information carried across the brain’s synapses.
What is the most intriguing finding in your research so far?
R.W.: Perhaps the most interesting finding is that the production of neurotransmitters and the synthesis of unique synaptic membranes are both impacted by nutrition. These processes increase by consuming three key nutrients: uridine, the omega-3 PUFA DHA, and choline.
As demonstrated in in-vivo models, these nutrients increase both the lipid portions of these membranes and the specific proteins that are essential for neurotransmission. Consequently, the neurons make surface structures, called dendritic spines, which can produce additional synapses. Theoretically, these nutrients could be used to restore synapses when they have been damaged by disease.