Saturated fatty acids play crucial role in creating new memories, study says

BRISBANE, Australia — Including saturated fat in your diet is generally an unhealthy choice when it comes to your waistline, but interesting new research suggests saturated fatty acids are actually quite helpful for your brain. Scientists at the University of Queensland have discovered the crucial role saturated fatty acids play in memory consolidation. Simply put, researchers say their work suggests that fatty acids are vital for the brain to create new memories.

Dr. Isaac Akefe from UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute explains this latest report uncovered the molecular mechanism and identified the genes driving the memory creation process. These findings, he says, open the door to a potential new treatment for neurodegenerative disorders.

“We’ve shown previously that levels of saturated fatty acids increase in the brain during neuronal communication, but we didn’t know what was causing these changes,” Dr. Akefe says in a media release. “Now for the first time, we’ve identified alterations in the brain’s fatty acid landscape when the neurons encode a memory.

“An enzyme called Phospholipase A1 (PLA1) interacts with another protein at the synapse called STXBP1 to form saturated fatty acids.”

💡What Are Saturated Fatty Acids?

  • They’re a type of fat molecule where each carbon atom in the fatty acid chain bonds with two hydrogen atoms, resulting in “saturation.” This means they have only single bonds between carbon atoms, unlike unsaturated fats with at least one double bond.
  • Saturated fatty acids are mainly found in animal products like meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs, as well as some plant-based sources like coconut and palm oil.
  • Consuming high amounts of saturated fat has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease due to potential effects on cholesterol levels.

The brain is the human body’s fattiest organ, as fatty compounds called lipids make up about 60 percent of its weight. Fatty acids, for reference, are the building blocks of a class of lipids called phospholipids.

Prior work performed in Professor Frederic Meunier’s laboratory revealed that STXBP1 controls the targeting of the PLA1 enzyme through the coordination of the release of fatty acids and directing communication between the synapses of the brain.

“Human mutations in the PLA1 and the STXBP1 genes reduce free fatty acid levels and promote neurological disorders. To determine the importance of free fatty acids in memory formation, we used mouse models where the PLA1 gene is removed. We tracked the onset and progression of neurological and cognitive decline throughout their lives,” Prof. Meunier explains.

“We saw that even before their memories became impaired, their saturated free fatty acid levels were significantly lower than control mice. This indicates that this PLA1 enzyme, and the fatty acids it releases, play a key role in memory acquisition.”

In conclusion, the study authors believe these findings hold major implications regarding modern science’s understanding of how memories crystalize in our minds.

“Our findings indicate that manipulating this memory acquisition pathway has exciting potential as a treatment for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s,” Prof. Meunier concludes.

The study is published in The EMBO Journal.

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About the Author

John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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  1. I hope that you hold off on recommending a higher saturated fat diet, before there are studies of people, their intake of sat.fats, and their memory or cognitive functioning. A systematic review of NHANES data could help determine if there is any connection.

  2. This study doesn’t have anything to do with diet as far as I can tell from the article. It is an enzyme making saturated fat in the body to partake in the reaction. Am I wrong?

  3. How can anyone trust science articles that “StudyFinds” publishes. Their website is riddled with pseudoscience misinformation. Advertisements for wearing magic socks to bed; red rice yeast; miracle gizmos to fight house dust. StudyFinds is an embarassment to anyone who actually cares about science. It’s this kind of quackery that leads to an even more scientifically illiterate society.

  4. What regular healthy foods aside from coconut and palm oil does this article recommend?
    All throughout this article I’m seeing adds for avocados? Do they have anything to do with this?
    I can see people going out and eating a lot of junk food … is that the purpose?

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