In a new study of rat brains published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers report that a single dose of caffeine strengthens brain cell connections and causes a surge in electrical currents in a region of the brain called the “hippocampus.”  The hippocampus is in part responsible for spatial memory and the way our minds change short-term memories into long-term memories.  Previous studies conducted to measure the effects of caffeine on the hippocampus have used caffeine doses that were much larger than those found in a cup of coffee, noted Serena Dudek, Ph.D., of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C., one of the coauthors of the study.  In contrast, Dudek explained, she and her teammates examined the effects of relatively modest doses of caffeine on a small region of the hippocampus.


After giving rats the equivalent of two filter-drip cups of coffee (two milligrams of caffeine/kilogram of body weight), the researchers conducted a test to see how strong nerve cells’ electrical messages in the brain tissue of the CA2 area of the hippocampus brain became.
When the nerve cells dosed with caffeine were stimulated, the area’s electrical activity increased as compared with the electrical activity observed in stimulated cells without caffeine exposure.  The bigger the caffeine dose, the more the electrical activity increased.  A caffeine dose ten times higher – a dose that only extreme coffee drinkers reach – provoked the biggest response in the nerve cells in the CA2 area.
The scientists noted similar effects when, instead of having rats consume the caffeine, they applied caffeine directly to CA2 nerve cells in a dish, a result that ruled out effects from post-caffeine changes in blood flow.
These heightened nerve connections in the hippocampus could play a role in learning and memory, because, as stated above, the primary responsibilities of the hippocampus include creating spatial memories and converting short term-memories into long-term memories.  An example of this phenomenon is that cab drivers in London, who have to navigate London’s labyrinthine roads, and thus require an astonishingly complex and comprehensive spatial understanding, have larger hippocampi than average people.
Increasing the understanding of caffeine’s effect on the brain in this and other respects could enable scientists to increase its already powerful benefits.  (See post, “Caffeine: Unexplored Source of Pharmacological Treasures.”)

6 Responses

  1. Sorry, I wanted to post the BAD BOB info here since he must really drink a lot of coffee and his brain is very Sharp. I hear he is starting up his Screaming Man on Caffeine Shirts again??? anyone know about this?

    1. I would recommend that your friend who drinks 10 cups of coffee every morning try two or even three 200 mg. tablets of caffeine instead. That’s far less caffeine– but in pill form, caffeine is not limited by the ingredients in coffee that mitigate against some of caffeine’s effects. There’s no way to know if this change would help except by giving it a try.

    2. What are you thinking. On PBC which did a opagrrm on the Hippocampus, the opagrrm introduced that the Hippocampus is increased with stress. That is one thing about your article that made me go What! I am sure that my interest in the Hippoampus will be made more memrable because of my age and my new career. The average age for the type of work I am doing is 33 and I am well into my 50 s my having to compete these co workers. What little I know of Hipposcampu and the type of work I do ( lost of opagrrms, computer inputs and extracting information from these 100 + opagrrms) information over load. I watch as my senior workers who have worked 30 40 years in the field, have a wealth of knowledge and have a feel for the opagrrms and the type of information that computer opagrrm needs to process the information. I find that at 50 this job is exciting and fun. Two reasons one there a people involved and the learning of extrating information.Your take on religion decreases the size of rhe Hippocampus just will not hold water. Seek out more information from PBS and than tell us what you think.

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