Esselun, C., B. Dilberger, C.V. Silaidos, E. Koch, N.H. Schebb, G.P. Eckert, 2020. A walnut diet in combination with enriched environment improves cognitive function and affects lipid metabolites in brain and liver of aged NMRI mice. Neuromolecular Med. doi:10.1007/s12017-020-08639-7.
This in vivo study aimed to test if a diet enriched with 6% walnuts alone or in combination with physical activity supports healthy ageing by changing the oxylipin profile in brain and liver, improving motor function, cognition, and cerebral mitochondrial function. Female NMRI mice were fed a 6% walnut diet starting at an age of 12 months for 24 weeks. One group was additionally maintained in an enriched environment, one group without intervention served as control. After three months, one additional control group of young mice (3 weeks old) was introduced. Motor and cognitive functions were measured using Open Field, Y-Maze, Rotarod and Passive Avoidance tests. Lipid metabolite profiles were determined using RP-LC-ESI(-)-MS/MS in brain and liver tissues of mice. Cerebral mitochondrial function was characterized by the determination of ATP levels, mitochondrial membrane potential and mitochondrial respiration. Expression of genes involved with mito- and neurogenesis, inflammation, and synaptic plasticity were determined using qRT-PCR. A 6% walnut-enriched diet alone improved spatial memory in a Y-Maze alternation test (p < 0.05) in mice. Additional physical enrichment enhanced the significance, although the overall benefit was virtually identical. Instead, physical enrichment improved motor performance in a Rotarod experiment (p* < 0.05) which was unaffected by walnuts alone. Bioactive oxylipins like hydroxy-polyunsaturated fatty acids (OH-PUFA) derived from linoleic acid (LA) were significantly increased in brain (p** < 0.01) and liver (p*** < 0.0001) compared to control mice, while OH-PUFA of α-linolenic acid (ALA) could only be detected in the brains of mice fed with walnuts. In the brain, walnuts combined with physical activity reduced arachidonic acid (ARA)-based oxylipin levels (p < 0.05). Effects of walnut lipids were not linked to mitochondrial function, as ATP production, mitochondrial membrane potential and mitochondrial respiration were unaffected. Furthermore, common markers for synaptic plasticity and neuronal growth, key genes in the regulation of cytoprotective response to oxidative stress and neuronal growth were unaffected. Taken together, walnuts change the oxylipin profile in liver and brain, which could have beneficial effects for healthy ageing, an effect that can be further enhanced with an active lifestyle. Further studies may focus on specific nutrient lipids that potentially provide preventive effects in the brain.