Doug Caruana's Hippocampal Research gets a Jolt

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Posted on 21 November 2016

Dr Douglas Caruana, Lecturer in Neuroscience and head of PlasticityLab in the School of Life Sciences, has won a £600,000 New Investigator grant from the BBSRC to examine the long-term effects on the brain of habitual high-dose caffeine use during adolescence.

Caffeine enhances cognition and the recent proliferation of highly-caffeinated beverages has driven a surge in caffeine use worldwide. In particular, energy drinks are marketed almost exclusively to young people, but it is not clear whether the recent increase in habitual energy drink consumption by teenagers is associated with lasting changes in brain function.

Recent evidence suggests that a group of neurons in the hippocampus, known collectively as area CA2, plays a role in mediating the cognitive enhancing effects of caffeine. In addition, area CA2 mediates social memory, and caffeine has a profound influence on synaptic physiology in CA2.

Adolescence is associated with widespread morphological, biochemical and functional changes in the brain so experiments outlined in Dr Caruana’s proposal will test whether habitual caffeine use during adolescence induces long-term adaptations in CA2 function in adulthood.

Data in support of a critical developmental window during which teenagers are susceptible to lasting neurological dysfunction resulting from regular use of energy drinks would underscore the need to amend policy related to the sale of these products to vulnerable populations.