Exploring brain-energy metabolism

Dr. Pierre Magistretti.


The field of nutrition has expanded over the past couple of decades, with the scope of research now incorporating a number of disciplines ranging from molecular science and molecular genetics to brain energy.

Brain-energy metabolism and research into how the brain is affected in vulnerable situations have become critical in response to questions about cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Pierre Magistretti, specialty chief editor of Frontiers in Neuroenergetics, Nutrition and Brain Health and dean of KAUST's Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering Division (BESE), agrees. He believes bringing together neuroenergetics and nutrition is a natural evolution of the field.

Over the years, Magistretti and Dr. Johannes le Coutre, head of perception physiology at the Nestlé Research Center, have collaborated on ways to merge brain-energy metabolism research into the field of nutrition. They note that in the last 15 to 20 years, scientists have identified potential targets for intervention that go beyond advances in drugs. Instead, they are looking at how nutrition can be used as a way to hinder or prevent cognitive decline.

These discussions and discussions with other nutrition scientists resulted in the publication of an article entitled “Goals in Nutrition Science 2015-2020” published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition in September 2015.


FRONTIERS DISCUSSION: Goals in Nutrition Science 2015 - 2020 from Frontiers on Vimeo.

Nutrition plays an important role in nervous system development and cognition at the beginning of life. It also plays a role later in life with cognitive decline and with challenges that are related to brain metabolism. One of the goals of the work is to examine links between nutrition and brain health.

“We know there is a decline in brain metabolism with age, and we know also that in many cases this is associated with cognitive decline. So you see that at both ends of the spectrum of life—from the very early stages to the very last ones—there is a remarkable role to be played by nutrition. And in between, maintaining healthy nutrition to keep a healthy brain is a natural conclusion,” Magistretti said.

Nutrition is currently an expanding field. In addition to the emerging thinking that brain energy metabolism, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease could be linked and addressed via nutrition, nutrition scientists are also facing hurdles such as worldwide hunger and hidden hunger in the Western world, as well as a growing obesity problem.

“Nutrition is essential to human life, and we see there is a link between being overweight, diabetes, obesity and ultimately Alzheimer’s disease, which is why people talk about Type 3 diabetes when they talk about Alzheimer’s disease,” said le Coutre.

Magistretti and le Coutre say they are just at the beginning of their collaboration and will see how the domain develops after this five-year period. Their goal is that in 2020, the authors of the paper will look back to see what has been achieved and what else may be imagined for this evolving discipline.

By Michelle Ponto for