Obesity and vulnerability of the CNS

Annadora J. Bruce-Keller, Inflammation and Neurodegeneration Laboratory, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70808, USA. annadora.bruce-keller@pbrc.edu
Jeffrey N. Keller
Christopher D. Morrison


The incidence of obesity is increasing worldwide, and is especially pronounced in developed western countries. While the consequences of obesity on metabolic and cardiovascular physiology are well established, epidemiological and experimental data are beginning to establish that the central nervous system (CNS) may also be detrimentally affected by obesity and obesity-induced metabolic dysfunction. In particular, data show that obesity in human populations is associated with cognitive decline and enhanced vulnerability to brain injury, while experimental studies in animal models confirm a profile of heightened vulnerability and decreased cognitive function. This review will describe findings from human and animal studies to summarize current understanding of how obesity affects the brain. Furthermore, studies aimed at identifying key elements of body-brain dialog will be discussed to assess how various metabolic and adipose-related signals could adversely affect the CNS. Overall, data suggest that obesity-induced alterations in metabolism may significantly synergize with age to impair brain function and accelerate age-related diseases of the nervous system. Thus, enhanced understanding of the effects of obesity and obesity-related metabolic dysfunction on the brain are especially critical as increasing numbers of obese individuals approach advanced age.