Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw’s®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 16 No. 1 • January 2013

Chronic Caffeine Consumption for Six Months by Rats from Young Adult to Middle Aged Prevents Some Aspects of Cognitive Decline and Is Associated with More Youthful Morphology of Hippocampal Neurons

Here we go with yet another paper reporting beneficial effects of caffeine or coffee.1 Earlier studies have been reported to be inversely associated with with the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.1 In this new study, rats were fed low-dose caffeine (5 mg/kg) in their drinking water or water alone (containing no caffeine) from the age of ~3.9 months for six months, e.g., from young to middle aged. This is very roughly equivalent to one cup of coffee or two caffeinated soft drinks per day for a human. The animals were evaluated by a battery of tests for various aspects of cognition two weeks after caffeine withdrawal.

The animals experienced a mild diuretic action from the caffeine, drinking more water and urinating more, hence requiring a change of their litter more frequently. There was no effect of caffeine on weight.

“The main finding of the present study was that prolonged caffeine treatment (from ~4 to ~10 months of age) given to adult male rats caused a significant attenuation of some indexes of behavioral decline associated with aging: (1) preserving their locomotor habituation in the OF [open field], (2) maintaining their exploratory drive for completing the minimum of nine arm visits required to calculate the alternation performance in the Y-maze in a greater proportion than control animals, and (3) maintaining their alternation percentage [a measure of working memory] above chance level.”1 “The SAB [spontaneous alternation behavior] is considered a test of working spatial memory because animals need to remember the arm [in the elevated plus maze] that was previously visited in order to sequentially explore the three arms of the maze. The expression of the SAB requires an intact hippocampal function and it is a behavior that deteriorates during the aging process.” In the animals that received only water, only half of them tested after six months completed the minimum of nine arm visits required to reliably calculate the alternation performance, whereas all but one of the rats that received caffeine for 6 months met that criterion.

The authors reported that the age-associated decline was not reduced or prevented in ALL measures. “These findings agree with those of an earlier study showing that healthy mice chronically treated with caffeine for 10 months (from 5½ to 15½ months of age) did not improve their cognitive performance in a battery of memory tests; neither were ­sensorimotor or anxiety measures affected when compared with control animals consuming only water.”1 Nevertheless, the results of the study reported here1 showed that even after several weeks of caffeine withdrawal, the rats that consumed low doses of caffeine during 6 months exhibited improved performance in some memory tests as compared to their controls.

The researchers further observed that the rats getting the low-dose caffeine treatment had hippocampal neurons with increased dendritic branching, total dendritic length, and increased spine density in distal dendritic branches (greater in the basal but not the apical dendrites of CA1 pyramidal neurons). The experimental design did not permit it to be determined whether these morphological changes took place during the chronic caffeine administration or after its withdrawal.

As you may have noticed, tests for anti-aging remedies never seem to have “definitive” results because of the complexities of biological systems in general and the differences in individual genetic makeup (even from one strain of rodent to another) that make generalization of results such a tricky puzzle. We expect, therefore, that this study will not be the last on the effects of caffeine on cognition. The results so far look promising.


  1. Vila-Luna et al. Chronic caffeine consumption prevents cognitive decline from young to middle age in rats, and is associated with increased length, branching, and spine density of basal dendrites in CA1 hippocampal neurons. Neurosci 202:384-395 (2012).

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