Hypervulnerability of the adolescent prefrontal cortex to nutritional stress via reelin deficiency

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Abstract

Overconsumption of high-fat diets (HFDs) can critically affect synaptic and cognitive functions within telencephalic structures such as the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). The underlying mechanisms, however, remain largely unknown. Here we show that adolescence is a sensitive period for the emergence of prefrontal cognitive deficits in response to HFD. We establish that the synaptic modulator reelin (RELN) is a critical mediator of this vulnerability because (1) periadolescent HFD (pHFD) selectively downregulates prefrontal RELN+ cells and (2) augmenting mPFC RELN levels using transgenesis or prefrontal pharmacology prevents the pHFD-induced prefrontal cognitive deficits. We further identify N-methyl-D-aspartate-dependent long-term depression (NMDA-LTD) at prefrontal excitatory synapses as a synaptic signature of this association because pHFD abolishes NMDA-LTD, a function that is restored by RELN overexpression. We believe this study provides the first mechanistic insight into the vulnerability of the adolescent mPFC towards nutritional stress, such as HFDs. Our findings have primary relevance to obese individuals who are at an increased risk of developing neurological cognitive comorbidities, and may extend to multiple neuropsychiatric and neurological disorders in which RELN deficiency is a common feature.

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