University of Birmingham (U.K.) researchers have reported that caffeine can boost nerve cell activity in the brain, potentially protecting against memory loss. The research was presented last week at the annual meeting of the Physiological Society, suggests that an effect of caffeine could be key to enhancing memory performance in the elderly.
Adenosine levels in the brain increase during the day and are especially high in the elderly. When adenosine binds to a so-called A1 receptor it decreases activity of nerve cells, but when it binds to an A2a receptor it boosts activity.
The University of Birmingham researchers found that caffeine can boost so-called gamma rhythms by more than three times the normal value, according to the results of a study performed with mice. Nerve cell activity in the brain is synchronized in a rhythmic fashion at a frequency of 25 milliseconds, and increases when the brain is engaged in solving complex problems.
Using hippocampal slices, the researchers measured oscillations in the presence and absence of caffeine. When compared to the control, the injection of caffeine increased the frequency of oscillations by 332 per cent.
This effect was attributed to selective blocking of the A1 receptor. Caffeine concentrations in the brain after a few cups of coffee or similar beverages could significantly increase gamma rhythm strength, which the researchers postulated would measurably benefit cognition.
The lead investigaor, Dr. Vreugdenhil however, warned against consumption of excessive amounts of very strong coffee due to the possibility of sleep disorders and circulatory irregularities.