Caffeine-brain connectivity gets scientists twitchy with elderly brain boosts in prospect


Caffeine’s effects on brain neurons and their cellular function is the subject of European research that could explain why coffee could improve memory and protect against age-related memory loss.

A collaboration between Sweden, Finland, the UK and Japan has shown the stimulant’s ability to enhance neuronal connections, memory and cognition by promoting brain connectivity.

“Caffeine is one of the most widely-consumed substances in the world, but we know relatively little about how it affects neurons and their cellular function,” said paper co-author professor Juha Kere of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

“Learning more about how caffeine affects our bodies at this level could help explain why coffee and caffeine seem to reduce risk of certain diseases, and improve memory and cognition.”

Caffeine is the principal alkaloid in coffee, tea, and sports energy drinks. Its psychoactive capabilities are highly valued with extending to improvements to cognitive performance, memory and mood as well as increased alertness.

Its regular consumption is also linked with possible protection against cognitive decline especially Parkinson’s disease.

However, caffeine also negatively affects sleep quality and may increase anxiety in sensitive individuals.

Caffeine investigations

Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet, University of Helsinki and King’s College London activated neurons using between three and 10 micromols (μM) of caffeine.

These figures represent average human consumption levels and were applied over one, three and nine hours.

Findings revealed a dosage-dependent response, which activated genes that responded within minutes of cellular stimuli.  

The higher the caffeine dose in the experiment, the quicker the genes were activated. Many of these genes are linked to the immune system learning and memory.

The study was able to determine that caffeine upregulated or ‘boosted’ some neuronal processes, whilst downregulating others.

Caffeine was found to downregulate immune system processes and upregulate neuronal projection development processes (which are linked to memory and other neuronal connectivity).

Applications for the elderly?

“Our research shows that inhibition on neuronal connectivity is downregulated by normal levels of caffeine – similar levels to what you might drink in a day,” professor Kere continued.

“This might well help understanding in part why coffee has been suggested to improve memory and protect against memory loss in the elderly.”

The study hypothesised that caffeine had an inherent regulatory effect on gene expression towards increasing neuronal cell connectivity.

Caffeine was able to regulate genes for axon growth and more generally neuron projection development.

“If the activation of neuronal connection/development pathways could be observed in a long term treatment model, it might help explain the links between caffeine and improved cognitive performance, as well as suggested protective effects against Alzheimer disease in epidemiological studies.”

Source: Nature Scientific Reports

Published online ahead of print: doi:10.1038/s41598017115746 

Acute doses of caffeine shift nervous system cell expression profiles toward promotion of neuronal projection growth.”

Authors: Juha Kere et al.

Related News

Stakeholders win 5 minutes to state final caffeine case

Stakeholders win 5 minutes to state final caffeine case

There's still much to learn about the role of caffeine in the onset of Alzheimer's disease, say researchers

What do we know about caffeine and Alzheimer's?

Caffeine during pregnancy could be linked to a higher risk smaller babies when they are born, warn the researchers.

Caffeine linked to low birth weight babies: Study

Single doses of caffeine up to 200mg do not raise safety concerns for adults, also when consumed less than two hours before intense exercise, says EFSA

EFSA: 400mg of caffeine a day is safe

European Coffee Federation (ECF) says EFSA caffeine opinion contains contradictions

Alert vs insomniac: EFSA says caffeine effect can be both good and bad

Should caffeine be regulated? Expert suggests need for warning labels

Should caffeine be regulated? Expert suggests stimulant should carry warning labels due to potential dangers

Related Products

See more related products

Submit a comment

Your comment has been saved

Post a comment

Please note that any information that you supply is protected by our Privacy and Cookie Policy. Access to all documents and request for further information are available to all users at no costs, In order to provide you with this free service, William Reed Business Media SAS does share your information with companies that have content on this site. When you access a document or request further information from this site, your information maybe shared with the owners of that document or information.