By Brian Friedlander from the Cornell Chronicle:
Fetuses with Down syndrome dramatically benefit when their mothers increase
their intake of the nutrient choline during pregnancy and nursing,
report Cornell researchers in the journal Neurobiology of Disease.
Increased choline by moms bolsters brain functions and plays a profound
health role for Down syndrome offspring throughout their lives.
maternal choline intake improves spatial cognition and attention, and
delays aging-related memory decline in normal laboratory rats. The
present findings with Down syndrome mice indicate that increased
maternal choline consumption may also lessen the impairment of
individuals with Down syndrome and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s
disease, which is seen in nearly all Down syndrome individuals.
older pregnant women are generally tested for a Down syndrome fetus,
younger women are not since their risk is low. However, development of
all fetuses – Down syndrome or not – would benefit from choline
supplements during pregnancy, said Barbara Strupp, Cornell professor of
nutritional sciences and of psychology and the study’s senior author.
Ramon Velazquez, a Cornell doctoral candidate in the field of
psychology, is the first author.
When the researchers compared how
Down syndrome mice performed in a water maze, they discovered that the
ones whose mothers had choline supplements performed much better than
those born to moms consuming lower choline levels.
At the cellular
level, the researchers found that increased maternal choline bolstered
neurogenesis – formation of new neurons – in a part of the brain called
the hippocampus, a brain region important for spatial mapping and
memory. Importantly, hippocampal neurogenesis correlated with mouse
performance in the water maze. This suggests that the increased
neurogenesis may have contributed to the improved spatial cognition.
evidence suggests that many women may not be consuming enough choline
during pregnancy to promote optimal brain development and cognitive
functioning of their babies – both normal and Down syndrome. Increasing
choline intake during pregnancy is sound nutritional advice for all
women and may offer an even more pronounced benefit for Down syndrome
offspring,” Strupp said.
Demand for choline goes up dramatically
during pregnancy, she explained. Choline is an essential nutrient for
all individuals, but pregnant women have an even greater need due to the
demands of the developing fetus. The most concentrated sources of
choline are foods such as eggs and meats, but choline is found in many
other foods, including vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower,
The study, “Maternal Choline Supplementation Improves
Spatial Learning and Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis in the Ts65Dn Mouse
Model of Down Syndrome,” is published in the July issue of Neurobiology
The study’s other co-authors are Cornell postdoctoral
associate Brian Powers, biostatistician Myla Strawderman, and Zoe
Luscher ’13; Jessica Ash, University at Albany; Christy Kelley and
Elliott Mufson of the Rush University Medical Center, Chicago; and
Stephen Ginsberg of the Center for Dementia Research, Nathan Kline
Institute, Orangeburg, N.Y., and of the New York University Langone
Medical Center, New York City.
The National Institutes of Health funded this research.