Betaine plays important roles that include acting as a methyl donor and converting homocysteine (Hcy) to methionine. Elevated plasma Hcy levels are known as hyperhomocysteinemia (HHcy) and contribute to impairments of learning and memory. Although it is commonly known that betaine plays an important role in Hcy metabolism, the effects of betaine on Hcy-induced memory impairment have not been investigated. Previously, we demonstrated the beneficial effects of betaine on acute stress and lipopolysaccharide-induced memory impairment. In the present study, we investigated whether betaine ameliorates Hcy-induced memory impairment and the underlying mechanisms of this putative effect. Mice were treated with Hcy (0.162. mg/kg, s.c.) twice a day for nine days, and betaine (25 mg/kg, s.c.) was administered 30. min before the Hcy injections. The memory functions were evaluated using a spontaneous alternation performance test (Y-maze) at seven days and a step-down type passive avoidance test (SD) at nine and ten days after Hcy injection. We found that betaine suppressed the memory impairment induced by repeated Hcy injections. However, the blood concentrations of Hcy were significantly increased in the Hcy-treated mice immediately after the passive avoidance test, and betaine did not prevent this increase. Furthermore, Hcy induces redox stress in part by activating matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9), which leads to BBB dysfunction. Therefore, we tested whether betaine affected MMP-9 activity. Interestingly, treatment with betaine significantly inhibited Hcy-induced MMP-9 activity in the frontal cortex but not in the hippocampus after acute Hcy injection. These results suggest that the changes in MMP-9 activity after betaine treatment might have been partially responsible for the amelioration of the memory deficits and that MMP-9 might be a candidate therapeutic target for HHcy.
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