Docosahexaenoic acid in the diet: its importance in maintenance and restoration of neural membrane function

Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2004 Apr;70(4):361-72. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2003.12.011.


The central nervous system has the second highest concentration of lipids after adipose tissue. Long chain fatty acids, particularly arachidonic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, are integral components of neural membrane phospholipids. Alterations in neural membrane phospholipid components cannot only influence crucial intracellular and intercellular signaling but also alter many membrane physical properties such as fluidity, phase transition temperature, bilayer thickness, and lateral domains. A deficiency of docosahexaenoic acid markedly affects neurotransmission, membrane-bound enzyme and ion channel activities, gene expression, intensity of inflammation, and immunity and synaptic plasticity. Docosahexaenoic acid deficiency is associated with normal aging, Alzheimer disease, hyperactivity, schizophrenia, and peroxisomal disorders. Although the molecular mechanism of docosahexaenoic acid involvement in the disorders remains unknown, the supplementation of docosahexaenoic acid in the diet restores gene expression and modulates neurotransmission. Also, improvements are seen in signal transduction processes associated with behavioral deficits, learning activity, peroxisomal disorders, and psychotic changes in schizophrenia, depression, hyperactivity, stroke, and Alzheimer disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects*
  • Diet
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Nervous System Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Nervous System Diseases / metabolism
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Phospholipids / metabolism


  • Phospholipids
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids