Obesity diminishes synaptic markers, alters Microglial morphology, and impairs cognitive function

Miriam E. Bocarsly, Maria Fasolino, Gary A. Kane, Elizabeth A. Lamarca, Gregory W. Kirschen, Ilia N. Karatsoreos, Bruce S. McEwen, Elizabeth Gould

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

177 Scopus citations


Obesity is a major public health problem affecting overall physical and emotional well-being. Despite compelling data suggesting an association between obesity and cognitive dysfunction, this phenomenon has received relatively little attention. Neuroimaging studies in obese humans report reduced size of brain regions involved in cognition, but few studies have investigated the cellular processes underlying cognitive decline in obesity or the influence of obesity on cognition in the absence of obesity-related illnesses. Here, a rat model of diet-induced obesity was used to explore changes in brain regions important for cognition. Obese rats showed deficits on cognitive tasks requiring the prefrontal and perirhinal cortex. Cognitive deficits were accompanied by decreased dendritic spine density and synaptic marker expression in both brain regions. Microglial morphology was also changed in the prefrontal cortex. Detrimental changes in the prefrontal cortex and perirhinal cortex occurred before metabolic syndrome or diabetes, suggesting that these brain regions may be particularly vulnerable to early stage obesity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15731-15736
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number51
StatePublished - Dec 22 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Cognition
  • Dendritic spine
  • Microglia
  • Obesity
  • Prefrontal cortex


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