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Beyond antioxidants: the cellular and molecular interactions of flavonoids and how these underpin their actions on the brain

  • Jeremy P. E. Spencer (a1) (a2)

The consumption of flavonoid-rich foods and beverages has been suggested to limit the neurodegeneration associated with a variety of neurological disorders and to prevent or reverse normal or abnormal deteriorations in cognitive performance. Flavonoids mediate these effects via a number of routes, including a potential to protect neurons against injury induced by neurotoxins, an ability to suppress neuroinflammation and a potential to promote memory, learning and cognitive function. Originally, it was thought that such actions were mediated by the antioxidant capacity of flavonoids. However, their limited absorption and their low bioavailability in the brain suggest that this explanation is unlikely. Instead, this multiplicity of effects appears to be underpinned by three separate processes: first, through their interactions with important neuronal and glial signalling cascades in the brain, most notably the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt and mitogen-activated protein kinase pathways that regulate pro-survival transcription factors and gene expression; second, through an ability to improve peripheral and cerebral blood flow and to trigger angiogenesis and neurogenesis in the hippocampus; third, by their capacity to directly react with and scavenge neurotoxic species and pro-inflammatory agents produced in the brain as a result of both normal and abnormal brain ageing. The present review explores the potential inhibitory or stimulatory actions of flavonoids within these three systems and describes how such interactions are likely to underlie neurological effects.

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Corresponding author
Corresponding author: Dr Jeremy P. E. Spencer, fax +44 118 931 0080, email
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Proceedings of the Nutrition Society
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