CUNNANE, Stephen

Gerosciences Axis


819 780-2220 , 45670

Full Professor
Department of Medicine (Endocrinology)
Department of Pharmacology-Physiology
Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Université de Sherbrooke


Ph.D. Physiology
B.Sc. Biology (Physiology)

Research Themes

Research Relevance

Understanding the Link among Nutrition, Brain Energy Metabolism, and Cognitive Functions in Aging

In Canada, nearly 20% of persons aged 65 and older live with some type of cognitive disorder affecting: their memory, language, reasoning abilities, with their independence diminishing as a consequence. A significant proportion of those with age-related cognitive impairments suffer from Alzheimer's disease.

Age-related cognitive dysfunctions appear to be associated with differences in the uptake and use of dietary fats, particularly omega-3. For over 30 years, Prof. Cunnane has been studying omega-3 fatty acids, and he has identified gradual changes in the way the organism of an older human adult uses fatty acids. The brain is richly endowed in docosahexanoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid. It also has very high energy requirements, mainly in the form of the sugar glucose. The supply of glucose to the brain appears to diminish with age, an effect which might be related to the change of DHA metabolism during aging, according to some studies.

The objective of Prof. Cunnane's research is to determine whether a reduction in glucose uptake by the aging brain is a risk factor in age-related cognitive decline, and whether DHA levels in the brain play a role in this gradual decline. To that end, his team uses sophisticated brain imaging techniques. The results of this research may make it possible to better predict who is at risk of developing age-related cognitive disorders, and may lead to better preventive strategies and dietary recommendations for older adults.

Representative Achievements

  • Chairholder of the Canada Research Chair on Dietary Fatty Acids and Cognitive Function during Aging (2003-2010).
  • Member of the Académie nationale de médecine (France)

   Cunnane SC, Schneider JA, Tangney C, Tremblay-Mercier J, Fortier M, Bennett DA, Morris MC. Fatty Acids Profiles in Plasma and Brain Compared to Neuropathological Score in Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease. J Alzheimer’s Dis 29, 691-697, 2012.

   Plourde M, Chouinard-Watkins R, Vandal M, Zhang Y, Lawrence P, Brenna JT, Cunnane SC. Plasma Incorporation, Apparent Retroconversion and b-Oxidation of 13C-Docosahexaenoic Acid in the Elderly. Nutr Metab, PMID: 21272363, e-pub Jan. 27, 2011.

   Cunnane SC, Nugent S, Roy M, Courchesne-Loyer A, Croteau E, Castellano A, Tremblay S, Pifferi F, Bocti C, Paquet N, Begdouri H, Bentourkia M, Turcotte E, Allard M, Barberger-Gateau P, Fulop T, Rapoport S. Brain Fuel Metabolism, Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease. Nutrition 27, 3-20, 2011.

   Cunnane SC, Plourde M, Pifferi F, Bégin M, Féart C, Barberger-Gateau, P (invited review). Fish, Docosahexaenoic Acid and Alzheimer’s Disease. Progr Lipid Res. 48, 239-256, 2009.


  • Brain Imaging: PET (FDG, 11C-Acetoacetate, PiB), Volumetric MRI
  • Stable isotope methodology
  • Clinical metabolic and pharmaceutical interventions
  • Animal modelling of metabolic disorders and aging

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