Published in the Cell Press journal iScience, the Marshall University authors said that the diet creates these impacts on the brain through increased Na,K-ATPase signaling in adipocytes.
The mice were also given the antibiotic doxycycline to activate the peptide NaKtide in the fat cells.
The mice eating the western diet increased their body weight and showed insulin resistance, lowered oxygen levels and low energy.
"In this study, we found that a western diet produced systemic oxidant stress along with evidence of activation of Na,K-ATPase signaling within both murine brain and peripheral tissues," the authors wrote. "We also noted this diet caused increases in circulating inflammatory cytokines as well as behavioral, and brain biochemical changes consistent with neurodegeneration."
When researchers obstructed the Na,K-ATPase signal through the use of NaKtide in the fat cells, it stopped the adverse effects the western diet had on the animals' brains – and the hippocampus in particular.
The hippocampus is the region of the brain that is associated with regulating emotional responses and is principally involved in storing long-term memories.
"These data suggest that a western diet produces cognitive decline and neurodegeneration through augmented Na,K-ATPase signaling and that antagonism of this pathway in adipocytes ameliorates the pathophysiology," they said.
If these conclusions are also observed in humans, the study's authors posited that the adipocyte Na,K-ATPase could serve as a clinical target in the therapy of neurodegenerative disorders.
Previous studies have found that a western diet increases the risk of death after a prostate cancer diagnosis and intensifies the severity of sepsis.
The western diet generally includes the overconsumption of over-refined sugars, highly refined and saturated fats, and too many calories.
While the western diet has been found to cause numerous adverse health effects, like obesity, scientists have also previously published studies regarding its negative impact on behavior, cognition and emotion.