Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Caffeine and the Brain

Professors Alexandre de Mendonça and Rodrigo A Cunha were guest editors of a special May 2010 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, on the therapeutic effects of caffeine in neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s etc).

The background was explained
– population health studies showed caffeine reduced the risk of Parkinson’s
– animal studies into Parkinson’s showed caffeine helped to prevent brain degeneration and motor defects
– population health studies showed moderate caffeine cut the cognitive decline of normal aging, and the risk of Alzheimer’s
– animal studies into Alzheimer’s confirmed caffeine prevented memory deterioration and brain degeneration.

A meeting of scientists from many different specialities took place in Lisbon on 12-13 June 2009, entitled Caffeine and the Brain.

This meeting, and the special edition of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, was sponsored by the the Industrial and Commercial Coffee Association. The professors assert that the scientists had full scientific independence.

Amongst many topics covered, one consensus was that the adenosine A2A receptor was the main target for the neuroprotection offered by caffeine.

The meeting focussed on indentifying unresolved issues that should be addressed by future research.

Caffeine seems particularly effective at returning cognitive functions to normal (as opposed to boosting them above normal) and has the ability to cut ameloid-beta plaque formation in Alzheimer’s.

Joaquim A. Ribeiro and Ana M. Sebastião – Caffeine and Adenosine. Adenosine (ADO) is a neurotransmitter used throughout the brain. At its simplest, it promotes sleep and prevents arousal, but it’s more like an orchestra conductor, keeping everything at the right speed, assuming it is functioning correctly.

Caffeine works by blocking the brain receptors for ADO, so less ADO gets taken up by the brain.

ADO is implicated in a vast range of normal brain functions and disease states – sleep and level of arousal, cognition and memory, control of ventilation, neuronal development and maturation, ALS, myasthenia gravis, stoke, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, depression, drug addiction, anxiety, pain, and epilepsy.

Since caffeine crosses the blood-brain barrier easily and interferes with ADO uptake, it presents a promising way to correct brain imbalances due to ADO.

Jiang-Fan Chen et al. What ‘knockout’ animals tell us about caffeine.

If you’ve ever wondered why we need animal studies read this brief section.

Caffeine works like a shotgun in the brain, hitting lots of different types of adenosine receptors and producing lots of totally different effects.

By using mice bred to be deficient in a given type of receptor, the team could unravel the puzzle – which receptors are important? – and what is it they are important for? (Try that in humans!)

Let the scientists worry about the detail. In English it’s simple – caffeine produces many different effects in the brain, through different adenosine receptors, now mapped out with some clarity.


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