Prophylactic Activation of Neuroprotective Stress Response Pathways by Dietary and Behavioral Manipulations

Mark P. Mattson, Wenzhen Duan, Ruqian Wan, Zhihong Guo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


It is well established that when most types of cells, including neurons, are exposed to a mild stress they increase their ability to resist more severe stress. This "preconditioning" phenomenon involves up-regulation of genes that encode cytoprotective proteins such as heat-shock proteins and growth factors. We found that a similar beneficial cellular stress response can be induced in neurons throughout the brain by a "meal-skipping" dietary restriction (DR) regimen in rats and mice. DR is effective in protecting neurons and improving functional outcome in models of stroke, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases. DR induces an increase in the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and heat-shock proteins in neurons. DR also stimulates neurogenesis in the hippocampus, and BDNF plays a role in this effect of DR. Physical exercise and environmental enrichment are two other manipulations that have been shown to induce BDNF expression in the brain, presumably because it is a mild cellular stress. When taken together with epidemiological and clinical studies in humans, the data from animal studies suggest that it may be possible to reduce the risk for age-related neurodegenerative disorders through dietary and behavioral modifications that act by promoting neuronal plasticity and survival.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-116
Number of pages6
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • BDNF
  • Parkinson's disease
  • heat shock
  • neurogenesis
  • neurotrophic factors
  • oxidative stress
  • serotonin
  • stroke

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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