Fatty liver starves brain of an essential protein, leading to dementia

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The PPARalpha protein could be an important link between high abdominal fat and the development of dementia in old age, recent findings suggest.

The protein, known as peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha, mediates metabolism and is naturally abundant in the liver. But high metabolic strain in a fatty liver depletes its store of the PPARα protein, and turns to sap other PPARα sources, including the hippocampus in the brain.

The hippocampus doesn’t metabolise fat, but the recent ground-breaking finding suggests that PPARalpha appears to play an important, alternative role in the brain — mediating learning and memory processes.

Essentially, the high fat liver starves the hippocampus of this essential protein, leading to the onset of dementia.

“We are surprised to find high level of PPARalpha in the hippocampus of animal models,” Kalipada Pahan, the Floyd A. Davis professor of neurology at Rush University Medical Center, told the Science Daily. Pahan led the research with support from Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institutes of Health.

Previous studies have found that individuals who acquire high levels of abdominal fat by middle age are 3.6 times more likely to develop dementia. Pahan believes that abdominal fat may indeed by an early indicator for whether dementia will set in later in life, according to the Science Daily report.

“We need to better understand how fat is connected to memory and learning, so that we can develop an effective approach to protect memory and learning,” Pahan said.

This study was published in Cell Reports.

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