Red blood cell and plasma phospholipid arachidonic and docosahexaenoic acid levels at birth and cognitive development at 4 years of age

Early Hum Dev. 2002 Oct;69(1-2):83-90. doi: 10.1016/s0378-3782(02)00067-1.


Objective: The long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA) have biophysical properties that may mediate behavioral outcome, especially cognitive development. This study examined the relationship between the LCPUFA-status at birth and cognitive development at 4 years of age.

Methods: Cognitive development of 128 full-term neonates, whose umbilical venous plasma and/or red blood cell phospholipid DHA and AA levels were known, was assessed at 4 years of age. Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated between cognitive development and DHA, AA, maternal intelligence, birth weight, duration of breast-feeding and paternal educational attainment. Multiple linear regressions were employed with cognitive development as the dependent variable and whereby the above-mentioned covariables were entered in step one while each of the four LCPUFAs was entered in step two.

Results: In bivariate analysis, maternal intelligence, birth weight, maternal smoking habits during pregnancy, paternal education and duration of breast-feeding showed significant correlations with cognitive development (p<0.01). The association of cognitive development with DHA and AA measured zero in bivariate analysis (plasma levels: r=0.03 and r=-0.03, respectively; erythrocyte levels: r=0.01 and r=0.05) and in multiple regression analysis (plasma DHA r=0.01, p=0.88; plasma AA r=0.02, p=0.80; erythrocyte DHA r=-0.01, p=0.95) except for erythrocyte AA (r=0.15, p=0.09).

Conclusion: No evidence was found for an association of the DHA or AA-status at birth with cognitive development at 4 years of age.

MeSH terms

  • Arachidonic Acid / blood*
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / blood*
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / metabolism*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn / blood*
  • Linear Models
  • Pregnancy
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Arachidonic Acid