The impact of dietary factors on brain health and vulnerability to disease is increasingly appreciated. The results of epidemiological studies, and intervention trials in animal models suggest that diets rich in phytochemicals can enhance neuroplasticity and resistance to neurodegeneration. Here we describe how interactions of plants and animals during their co-evolution, and resulting reciprocal adaptations, have shaped the remarkable characteristics of phytochemicals and their effects on the physiology of animal cells in general, and neurons in particular. Survival advantages were conferred upon plants capable of producing noxious bitter-tasting chemicals, and on animals able to tolerate the phytochemicals and consume the plants as an energy source. The remarkably diverse array of phytochemicals present in modern fruits, vegetables spices, tea and coffee may have arisen, in part, from the acquisition of adaptive cellular stress responses and detoxification enzymes in animals that enabled them to consume plants containing potentially toxic chemicals. Interestingly, some of the same adaptive stress response mechanisms that protect neurons against noxious phytochemicals are also activated by dietary energy restriction and vigorous physical exertion, two environmental challenges that shaped brain evolution. In this perspective article, we describe some of the signaling pathways relevant to cellular energy metabolism that are modulated by 'neurohormetic phytochemicals' (potentially toxic chemicals produced by plants that have beneficial effects on animals when consumed in moderate amounts). We highlight the cellular bioenergetics-related sirtuin, adenosine monophosphate activated protein kinase (AMPK), mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) pathways. The inclusion of dietary neurohormetic phytochemicals in an overall program for brain health that also includes exercise and energy restriction may find applications in the prevention and treatment of a range of neurological disorders.
- Adaptive stress response
- Alzheimer's disease
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology