Sphingomyelin in brain and cognitive development: Preliminary data

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General Nutrition Paediatrics Neuroscience Nutrition & Disease Management
Sphingomyelin in brain and cognitive development: Preliminary data

This manuscript provides preliminary findings from the first study ever conducted in term neurotypically developing children which connects dietary sphingomyelin (SM) intake from infant nutrition products to cognitive development and brain myelination.

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  • While existing studies may suggest the role of sphingomyelin (SM) as a nutritional contributor to brain and cognitive development, clinical evidence on human infants remains scarce
  • With an observational cohort human study model paired with in vitro models, the authors offered the first findings on the impact of early life dietary SM in later cognitive development of healthy term-born children


  • Healthy, term infants < 2 years of age and toddlers > 2 years of age (n = 88)
  • Received the same infant nutrition product (named product A, B or C in study) for at least 80% of feeds during the first 3 months of life

Dietary SM intake


  • Obtained infant nutritional produce intake history from parents
  • Qualified SM content in all three products retrospectively


  • SM content ranged from 28 to 71 mg/L in products:
    • Product A: 28 mg/L
    • Product B: 71 mg/L
    • Product C: 28 mg/L


Brain SM and Cognitive Development


  • Performed Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and neuropsychological assessment with all subjects
  • Within 7 days of successful MRI, measured cognitive outcomes using the Mullen Scales of Early Learning (MSEL), subscales include:
    • Visual reception
    • Fine and gross motor function
    • Expressive and receptive language


  • Higher levels of dietary SM intake during early life were associated with:
    • Higher rates of changes in verbal development during 1 – 24 months (p < 0.001)
    • Higher levels of brain myelin content at 12-24 months
    • Delayed onset and/or more prolonged myelination in various brain areas
  • In vitro data with rat pups showed SM treatment resulted in:
    • Increased proliferation, maturation and differentiation of oligodendrocyte precursor cells
    • Increased axon myelination



  • Dietary SM induced impact on cognitive development in health term children
  • Dietary SM may potentially modulate oligodendrocyte cells and increase axon myelination

Further studies should include examinations of SM availability and brain update to support evidence on SM intake and cognitive benefits




Schneider N, et al. Sphingomyelin in brain and cognitive development: preliminary data. eNeuro. 2019;10.1523/ENEURO.0421-18.2019.
Link to the article

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“The Learning Lead” Newsletter Volume 6 Issue 1 – Sphingomyelin in brain and cognitive development