High fat diet increases cognitive decline and neuroinflammation in a model of orexin loss

C. M. Duffy, J. J. Hofmeister, J. P. Nixon, T. A. Butterick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Midlife obesity is a risk factor for cognitive decline and is associated with the earlier onset of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Diets high in saturated fat potentiate the onset of obesity, microglial activation, and neuroinflammation. Signaling deficiencies in the hypothalamic peptide orexin and/or orexin fiber loss are linked to neurodegeneration, cognitive impairment, and neuroinflammation. Prior studies show that orexin is neuroprotective, suppresses neuroinflammation, and that treatment with orexin improves cognitive processes in orexin/ataxin-3 (O/A3) mice, a transgenic mouse model of orexin neurodegeneration. Our overall hypothesis is that loss of orexin contributes to high fat diet (HFD)-induced hippocampal neuroinflammation and cognitive decline. To examine this, we tested male O/A3 mice (7–8 mo. of age) in a two-way active avoidance (TWAA) hippocampus-dependent memory task. We tested whether (1) orexin loss impaired cognitive function; (2) HFD worsened cognitive impairment; and (3) HFD increased microglial activation and neuroinflammation. O/A3 mice showed significant impairments in TWAA task learning vs. wild type (WT) mice (increased escapes p < 0.05, reduced avoidances p < 0.0001). Mice were then placed on HFD (45% total fat, 31.4% saturated fat) or remained on normal chow (NC; 4% total fat and 1% saturated fat), and TWAA was retested at 2 and 4 weeks. Learning impairment was evident at both 2 and 4 weeks in O/A3 mice fed HFD for following diet exposure vs. WT mice on normal chow or HFD (increased escapes, reduced avoidances p < 0.05). Additionally, O/A3 mice had increased gene expression of the microglial activation marker Iba-1 (measured via qRT-PCR, p < 0.001). Further characterization of the microglial immune response genes in hippocampal tissue revealed a significant increase in CX3 chemokine receptor 1 (CX3CR1), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and the mitochondria-associated enzyme immune responsive gene-1 (Irg1). Collectively, our results indicate that orexin loss impairs memory, and that HFD accelerates hippocampus-dependent learning deficits and the onset of neuroinflammation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-47
Number of pages7
JournalNeurobiology of Learning and Memory
StatePublished - Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs BLR&D grants I01 BX001686 and I01 BX004146 (to TAB), Alzheimer’s Disease Association grant AARGD-17-505409 (to TAB), grants from the Center for Veterans Research and Education (to TAB and JPN), and the University of Minnesota MnDRIVE Fellowship in Neuromodulation (to CMD). We thank Dr. Catherine M. Kotz, Ms. Martha Grace, and Dr. Vijayakumar Mavanji (MVAHCS) for generously providing mice used for these studies, guidance on mouse husbandry, and assistance in rodent behavior studies, respectively.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018


  • High fat diet
  • Microglia
  • Neuroinflammation
  • Obesity
  • Two-way active avoidance memory task


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