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Dose-dependent effects of walnuts on motor and cognitive function in aged rats

  • Lauren M. Willis (a1), Barbara Shukitt-Hale (a1), Vivian Cheng (a1) and James A. Joseph (a1)
  • DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0007114508059369
  • Published online: 09 September 2008
Abstract

Aged rats show decrements in performance on motor and cognitive tasks that require the use of spatial learning and memory. Previously we have shown that these deficits can be reversed by the polyphenolics in fruits and vegetables. Walnuts, which contain the n-3 fatty acids α-linolenic acid and linoleic acid, are a dietary source of polyphenols, antioxidants and lipids. Thus, the present study examined the effects of walnut supplementation on motor and cognitive ability in aged rats. Fischer 344 rats, aged 19 months, were fed a control, or a 2, 6 or 9 % walnut diet for 8 weeks before motor and cognitive testing. Results for the motor testing showed that the 2 % walnut diet improved performance on rod walking, while the 6 % walnut diet improved performance on the medium plank walk; the higher dose of the 9 % walnut diet did not improve psychomotor performance and on the large plank actually impaired performance. All of the walnut diets improved working memory in the Morris water maze, although the 9 % diet showed impaired reference memory. These findings show for the first time that moderate dietary walnut supplementation can improve cognitive and motor performance in aged rats.

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Corresponding author
*Corresponding author: Dr James A. Joseph, fax +1 617 556 3222, email james.joseph@ars.usda.gov
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