Low levels of B vitamins can
play a role in cognitive dysfunction and impair learning ability,
suggests a new animal study.
Researchers measured the metabolic, cognitive,
and microvascular effects of B-vitamin deficiency in mice. The
scientists divided the animals into three groups and fed them different
diets for 10 weeks. The researchers gave the control group a normal
diet containing B vitamins while two other groups were fed B-vitamin
deficient diets. Blood levels of B vitamins and homocysteine were
measured and brain anatomy was assessed. The mice also underwent tests
to measure cognitive function such as holding on to a wire and walking
a beam as well as the Morris water maze, which tests spatial learning
In analyzing structural changes to the brain,
researchers determined that the mice fed a diet deficient in folate,
vitamin B12 and B6 had reduced brain capillary length and density, both
vascular changes linked to cognitive impairment. Mice fed a diet
deficient in folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 also demonstrated
significant deficits in spatial learning and memory compared with
normal mice. It took longer, on average, for the B-vitamin-deficient
mice to negotiate the water maze, compared with controls. The shorter
the capillary length in the hippocampus, the longer it took for mice to
escape from the maze.
Moreover, mice deficient in these B vitamins
developed homocysteine levels seven times greater than control
subjects. Homocysteine is an amino acid associated with heart disease
and also cognitive dysfunction. High homocysteine levels have been
linked to deficiencies of folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6. The
higher the homocysteine levels in the mice used in this study, the
shorter the capillary length in the hippocampus.
The researchers noted
that similar microvascular changes may occur in humans deficient in
folate and vitamins B6 and B12 and that this may explain the
association of high homocysteine levels with human age-related
Troen AM, Shea-Budgell M, Shukitt-Hale B, Smith
DE, Selhub J, Rosenberg IH. B-vitamin deficiency causes
hyperhomocysteinemia and vascular cognitive impairment in mice. Proc
Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Aug 26;105(34):12474-9.
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