Coconut oil protects cortical neurons from amyloid beta toxicity by enhancing signaling of cell survival pathways

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Abstract

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that has links with other conditions that can often be modified by dietary and life-style interventions. In particular, coconut oil has received attention as having potentially having benefits in lessening the cognitive deficits associated with Alzheimer's disease. In a recent report, we showed that neuron survival in cultures co-treated with coconut oil and Aβ was rescued compared to cultures exposed only to Aβ. Here we investigated treatment with Aβ for 1, 6 or 24 h followed by addition of coconut oil for a further 24 h, or treatment with coconut oil for 24 h followed by Aβ exposure for various periods. Neuronal survival and several cellular parameters (cleaved caspase 3, synaptophysin labeling and ROS) were assessed. In addition, the influence of these treatments on relevant signaling pathways was investigated with Western blotting. In terms of the treatment timing, our data indicated that coconut oil rescues cells pre-exposed to Aβ for 1 or 6 h, but is less effective when the pre-exposure has been 24 h. However, pretreatment with coconut oil prior to Aβ exposure showed the best outcomes. Treatment with octanoic or lauric acid also provided protection against Aβ, but was not as effective as the complete oil. The coconut oil treatment reduced the number of cells with cleaved caspase and ROS labeling, as well as rescuing the loss of synaptophysin labeling observed with Aβ treatment. Treatment with coconut oil, as well as octanoic, decanoic and lauric acids, resulted in a modest increase in ketone bodies compared to controls. The biochemical data suggest that Akt and ERK activation may contribute to the survival promoting influence of coconut oil. This was supported by observations that a PI3-Kinase inhibitor blocked the rescue effect of CoOil on Aβ amyloid toxicity. Further studies into the mechanisms of action of coconut oil and its constituent medium chain fatty acids are warranted.

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