Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Medical Sciences

Major Professor

Paula C. Bickford, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kevin Nash, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Edwin Weeber, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Caralina Marin de Evsikova, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Barbara Shukitt-Hale, Ph. D.


Astaxanthin, Neuroprotection, Neurotoxicity, Neurodegeneration, MPTP, Aging, Cognition


Parkinson’s disease is the second common neurodegenerative disease and is most frequently diagnosed in individuals over 60. There are no available medications that can prevent or restore the loss of neurons that correspond to motor impairments in patients. Identifying novel therapeutic compounds that are capable of slowing and reversing the extensive neurodegeneration that occurs in PD remains an important goal of the field. While basic research has identified potential therapeutic agents, studies often use young model organisms to demonstrate efficacy of the target compound. This approach ignores the impact of the aged CNS on the disease process, and likely contributes to high failure rates of translation in clinical trials. Here we investigate the capacity for astaxanthin (AXT), a xanthophyll carotenoid, to attenuate the neurotoxicity to MPTP, a toxin routinely used to establish parkinsonian symptoms in mice. We show that AXT reduces MPTP induced neurotoxicity in young, but less effective in the aged animals. While AXT is an interesting neuroprotective capacity, there are also multiple reports that indicate AXT may preserve cognitive function in the context of neurodegeneration and neural injury, the impact of AXT under physiological conditions and in the aged CNS has been largely uninvestigated. We also evaluate the effect of AXT on cognitive function in young and aged mice. Here, we show that AXT supplementation can modulate neural plasticity is associated with improved performance in cognitive behavioral tasks. This diet effect was observed in both young and aged mice, suggesting a novel and direct mechanism of action in synaptic function.

Included in

Neurosciences Commons