Neurons from female rats and mice better survive starvation than those of males because they consume fat instead of protein, Pitt research published in Friday's Journal of Biological Chemistry.
The researchers said the discovery could help doctors nourish critically ill patients, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Friday.
"Within 24 hours, neurons from males were dying off because they initiated a self-eating process called autophagy," said Robert Clark, associate professor of critical care medicine at Pitt and attached to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. "But neurons from the females mobilized fatty acids and made lipid droplets to use as a fuel source, prolonging their survival."
Researchers said male cells tend to siphon energy from protein sources while females look to fat.
"We really need to take critical care nutrition to the next level," Clark said. "We can show that undernourishment of the brain during times of illness could lead to worse neurological outcomes, so it may be important to feed men and women, and boys and girls, differently to prevent brain cell death."