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Low birth weight and cognitive impairment correlated in rats

Poor nutrition in the womb negatively affects memory in rats.

Production of new neurons (i.e., neurogenesis) in the brain of an adult rat.The image represents a cross section of a rat hippocampus that was exposed to a mixture of labeled antibodies that reveal old versus new neurons (in greenversus red/yellow, respectively). © INRA - Oniris, Georgina Pérez-García
Updated on 04/14/2016
Published on 03/31/2016

Each year in France, more than 6,000 babies are born underweight (i.e., with a birth weight of less than 2.5 kg) as a result of intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). In these children, brain function is impaired because of malnutrition experienced in the womb. They are at greater risk of learning disabilities; they are also more likely to develop serious mental health conditions such as depression and schizophrenia. To develop nutritional or therapeutic tools that will allow these children to have normal neurological and psychological development, it is first necessary to understand the mechanisms underlying their cognitive impairments.

In an article published in Scientific Reports, INRA researchers show that adult rats that experienced IUGR are capable of acquiring but not consolidating novel information. This impairment is due to their inability to differentiate among similar pieces of information to which they are exposed simultaneously. It is ultimately linked to the fact that their hippocampi cannot produce new neurons. The hippocampus is known to play an important role in regulating learning and memory.

This research, which was conducted by the Joint Research Unit for the Physiology of Nutritional Adaptations (PhAN),has shed significant light on the mechanisms involved in cognitive impairment due to early malnutrition.


Research partners: This research was carried out with the help of a postdoctoral scientist and a PhD student from Mexico and in collaboration with the Federal University of Pernambuco in Brazil.

Publication cited: Perez-Garcia, G., Guzman-Quevedo, O., Da Silva Aragao, R., & Bolanos-Jimenez, F. (2016). Early malnutrition results in long-lasting impairments in pattern-separation for overlapping novel object and novel location memories and reduced hippocampal neurogenesis. Scientific Reports, 6, 21275. DOI: 10.1038/srep21275