Study leader Rodney Johnson of the University of Illinois says luteolin, found in many plants, has anti-inflammatory effects in the body and the current study suggests it improves cognitive health by acting directly on the microglial cells to reduce their production of inflammatory cytokines in the brain.
Inflammation in the brain appears to be a key contributor to age-related memory problems, Johnson says.
Microglial cells, specialized immune cells that reside in the brain and spinal cord are stimulated to produce signaling molecules -- cytokines -- which spur a cascade of chemical changes in the brain.
These inflammatory cytokines induce "sickness behavior" such as the sleepiness, loss of appetite, memory deficits and depressive behaviors that often accompany illness.
"We found previously that during normal aging, microglial cells become dysregulated and begin producing excessive levels of inflammatory cytokines," Johnson says in a statement. "We think this contributes to cognitive aging and is a predisposing factor for the development of neurodegenerative diseases."
Adult and old mice were fed a control diet or a luteolin-supplemented diet for four weeks.
The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, finds the aged mice on the luteolin-supplemented diet did better on the learning and memory tasks than their peers, and the levels of inflammatory cytokines in their brains were more like those of the younger adult mice.
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