Blueberries May Boost Brain Power
By Rosalie Marion
November 25, 2002
As an estimated 77 million baby boomers march toward retirement,
more and more of them are reaching for foods reported to be high in powerful
Now, researchers funded by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have added compelling new research
findings to earlier reports showing, in rat studies, that compounds in
blueberries had reversed existing short-term memory losses.
The findings were presented in a poster by Gemma Casadesus, a
graduate research associate working with James A. Joseph, head of the
Laboratory of the Jean Mayer USDA
Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston. The
poster was presented this month at the Society for Neuroscience's annual
The researchers found an increased birth rate of brain cells in
the hippocampus--a brain region responsible for memory--in aged rats fed
blueberry supplementation equal to one cup daily in humans for two months, when
compared to nonsupplemented rats.
The hippocampus is one of the few areas in the brain that
continuously replace neurons through a process called neurogenesis, a term that
encompasses proliferation, survival and differentiation of precursor cells.
Moreover, these changes were associated with improved memory
performance in the blueberry-supplemented rats. The scientists will follow by
studying the interaction of blueberry compounds with the molecular mechanisms
responsible for the modulation of neurogenesis.
In tandem with these findings, ARS plant physiologist Freddi A.
Hammerschlag and ARS plant geneticist Lisa J. Rowland have been working to
develop blueberry cultivars endowed with cold tolerance. Such hardiness is
ultimately hoped to boost U.S. blueberry growers' current 350-million-pound
The two plant scientists, who are with the
ARS Fruit Laboratory in
Beltsville, Md., recently worked out a system to regenerate blueberry plants
from tissue taken from the commercially important cultivar, Bluecrop.
Regeneration is a laboratory technique used to produce whole plants from single
cells that have been pegged as genetically attractive.
Read more about ARS' blueberry research in the
November issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the USDA's chief
scientific research agency.