Now the under-appreciated amino acid is gaining attention as a key player in brain health.
When consumers shop for supplements to keep their mind sharp, the amino acid serine is not often top of mind. But some exciting new research may change that. In one study on patients with kidney disease, researchers found that intra-brain levels of serine, which are levels within the actual brain tissue, were directly correlated with cognitive function. Similarly, in these same patients, low levels of serine in blood were linked to lower cognitive function, leading the authors to say that serine levels may have potential as a “novel biomarker of impaired cognitive function” in this population of patients with kidney disease.
For those familiar with the role of serine, this should not come as a surprise. This amino acid is particularly important in the regulation of neurotransmitters found in the central nervous system and brain. Deficiency has long been associated with neurological and psychological symptoms due to its role in regulating neurotransmitters. It can increase dopamine levels and is involved in NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor function, which regulates mood. Further, serine stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which benefits cognitive function by improving attention and focus.
But another study from University of Alabama ties another very important role of serine to cognition, which is its ability to act as a methyl donor. This means that serine can modify biological compounds throughout the body by physically altering the structure of a molecule. This process is called methylation, which involves adding methyl groups – which is a single carbon attached to three hydrogen atoms – to various tissues in our bodies. (For more on methylation read the following blog: IS METHYLATION GOOD OR BAD?). Even those familiar with methylation may not realize that serine can donate more methyl groups than any other nutrient.
Here's where it gets interesting: In this study done on rats, serine actually altered the genes of mice in a way that improved cognition and behavior. It did this via its role in methylation. The implications are profound – it explains a mechanism of action for a nutrient taken exogenously to modify gene expression in a positive way. Serine administration lowered anxiety in mice which resulted in more positive behaviors. The paper goes into detail on which genetic modifications were affected, but the gist of the study showed serine positively affected genes that are involved in anxiety and cognition.
· For more information the study of serine in brain and plasma tissue, click here for the ABSTRACT and click here for FULL TEXT.
· For more information on the epigenetic role of serine in cognition, click here for the ABSTRACT and click here for FULL TEXT.
For more information on the physiologic role of micronutrients and cognitive function, click this link: Micronutrients and COGNITIVE FUNCTION.
1Zhang et al. L-serine influences epigentic modification to improve cognition and behaviors in growth hormone-releasing hormone knockout mice. Biomedicines 2022 Dec 30:11(1):104.
2Iwata et al. Intra-brain and plasma levels of L-serine are associated with cognitive status in patients with chronic kidney disease. Kidney Dis (Basel) 2023 Jan 13:9(2):118-129.