08:59am Friday 24 January 2020

Elevated brain levels of magnesium enhance learning and memory

Researchers at the University of Toronto are part of an international study which suggests magnesium may hold the key to improving memory.

The research, published by Cell Press in the January 28th issue of the journal Neuron, finds that an increase in brain magnesium improves learning and memory in young and old rats. The study, suggests that increasing magnesium intake is a valid strategy to enhance cognitive abilities and supports speculation that inadequate levels magnesium impairs cognitive function, leading to faster deterioration of memory in aging humans.

“Diet can have a significant impact on cognitive capacity. Identification of dietary factors which have a positive influence on synapses, connections for communication between neurons, might help to enhance learning and memory and prevent their decline with age and disease,” said Professor Min Zhuo, Department of Physiology at the Faculty of Medicine, who collaborated on the research. Zhuo is also Canada Research Chair in Pain and Cognition and the Michael Smith Chair in Neurosciences and Mental Health.

Professor Guosong Liu, director of the Center for Learning and Memory at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, led a study examining whether increased levels of one such dietary supplement, magnesium, boosts brain power.

“Magnesium is essential for the proper functioning of many tissues in the body, including the brain and, in an earlier study, we demonstrated that magnesium promoted synaptic plasticity in cultured brain cells,” explained Liu. “Therefore it was tempting to take our studies a step further and investigate whether an increase in brain magnesium levels enhanced cognitive function in animals.”

Because it is difficult to boost brain magnesium levels with traditional oral supplements, Liu and colleagues developed a new magnesium compound, magnesium-L-threonate (MgT) that could significantly increase magnesium in the brain via dietary supplementation. They used MgT to increase magnesium in rats of different ages and then looked for behavioral and cellular changes associated with memory.

“We found that increased brain magnesium enhanced many different forms of learning and memory in both young and aged rats,” said Liu. A close examination of cellular changes associated with memory revealed an increase in the number of functional synapses, activation of key signaling molecules and an enhancement of short- and long-term synaptic processes that are crucial for learning and memory.

“It is important to point out that the control rats in this study had a normal diet which is widely accepted to contain a sufficient amount of magnesium,” said Liu. “The effects we observed were due to elevation of magnesium to levels higher than provided by a normal diet. Therefore, our findings suggest that elevating brain magnesium content via increasing magnesium intake might be a useful new strategy to enhance cognitive abilities. Moreover, half the population of industrialized countries has a magnesium deficit, which increases with aging. This may very well contribute to age-dependent memory decline; increasing magnesium intake might prevent or reduce such decline.

The international collaboration on this research includes participation from the following institutions: University of Toronto, Tsinghua University, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University.

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