Dr. Mark Mattson is Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging, and a Professor of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. His research is aimed at understanding molecular and cellular mechanisms of brain aging and the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, and stroke. His work has elucidated how the brain responds adaptively to challenges such as fasting and exercise, and he has used that information to develop novel interventions to promote optimal brain function throughout life. Dr. Mattson is among the most highly cited neuroscientists in the world with an ‘h’ index of over 200. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he has received many awards including the Metropolitan Life Foundation Medical Research Award, the Alzheimer’s Association Zenith Award and the Santiago Grisolia Chair Prize.

Cellular Adaptations to Intermittent Fasting: Impact on Brain and Cardiometabolic Resilience

Studies of animal models have shown that intermittent fasting (IF) can improve the performance of the brain (cognition and motor function) and cardiovascular system (reduced resting heart rate and blood pressure and increased heart rate variability. IF protects brain and heart cells against metabolic and oxidative stress in experimental models of neurodegenerative disorders, stroke and myocardial infarction. With fasting and extended exercise, liver glycogen stores are depleted and ketones are produced from adipose-cell-derived fatty acids. This metabolic switch in cellular fuel source is accompanied by cellular and molecular adaptations of neural networks in the brain that enhance their functionality and bolster their resistance to stress, injury and disease. I will summarize our current understanding of how intermittent metabolic switching, repeating cycles of a metabolic challenge that induces ketosis (fasting and/or exercise) followed by a recovery period (eating, resting and sleeping), may optimize brain and cardiovascular function and resilience throughout the lifespan.


Public Lecture:
“Intelligence and Creativity Evolved as Adaptations to Food Scarcity: Implications for Brain Health”

Evidence from the fields of neuroscience, evolutionary biology and anthropology reveal that even the most advanced problem-solving capabilities of the human brain evolved as adaptations to overcome food scarcity. Studies of rodents, birds and non-human primates reveal how neuronal networks involved in learning and memory, spatial navigation, decision-making and sociality enable efficient acquisition of food. The robust creativity and imagination of modern-day humans emerged as adaptations to survive and reproduce in environments with sparse and varying food sources. Thus, the first tools invented by humans were for the purpose of acquiring or processing food, the earliest artistic expression depicted scenes of ‘the hunt’, and languages evolved to facilitate the communication and transgenerational propagation of knowledge of tool-making, hunting, agriculture and animal domestication. Emerging findings suggest that cellular signaling pathways that evolved to overcome food scarcity can be engaged by intermittent food deprivation/fasting to enhance cognition and resistance of the brain to injury and disease.