Caffeine may block inflammation linked to mild cognitive impairment

October 9, 2012

Recent studies have linked caffeine consumption to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease, and a new University of Illinois study may be able to explain how this happens.

"We have discovered a novel signal that activates the brain-based inflammation associated with , and caffeine appears to block its activity. This discovery may eventually lead to drugs that could reverse or inhibit ," said Gregory Freund, a professor in the U of I's College of Medicine and a member of the U of I's Division of .

Freund's team examined the effects of caffeine on in two groups of mice—one group given caffeine, the other receiving none. The two groups were then exposed to hypoxia, simulating what happens in the brain during an interruption of breathing or blood flow, and then allowed to recover.

The caffeine-treated mice recovered their ability to form a new memory 33 percent faster than the non-caffeine-treated mice. In fact, caffeine had the same anti-inflammatory effect as blocking IL-1 signaling. IL-1 is a critical player in the inflammation associated with many neurodegenerative diseases, he said.

"It's not surprising that the insult to the brain that the mice experienced would cause learning memory to be impaired. But how does that occur?" he wondered.

The scientists noted that the hypoxic episode triggered the release of adenosine by .

"Your cells are little powerhouses, and they run on a fuel called ATP that's made up of molecules of adenosine. When there's damage to a cell, adenosine is released," he said.

Just as gasoline leaking out of a tank poses a danger to everything around it, adenosine leaking out of a cell poses a danger to its environment, he noted.

The extracellular adenosine activates the enzyme caspase-1, which triggers production of the IL-1β, a critical player in inflammation, he said.

"But caffeine blocks all the activity of adenosine and inhibits caspase-1 and the inflammation that comes with it, limiting damage to the brain and protecting it from further injury," he added.

Caffeine's ability to block adenosine receptors has been linked to cognitive improvement in certain neurodegenerative diseases and as a protectant against Alzheimer's disease, he said.

"We feel that our foot is in the door now, and this research may lead to a way to reverse early cognitive impairment in the brain. We already have drugs that target certain receptors. Our work now is to determine which receptor is the most important and use a specific antagonist to that receptor," he said.

Explore further: Finding the roots of memory impairment from sleep deprivation

More information: The study appears in the Journal of Neuroscience and can be viewed online at

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.