Male rat pups (21 days old) were placed on a diet deficient in n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) or on an n-3 PUFA adequate diet containing alpha-linolenic acid (alpha-LNA; 18 : 3n-3). After 15 weeks on a diet, [4,5-3H]docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22 : 6n-3) was injected into the right lateral cerebral ventricle, and the rats were killed at fixed times over a period of 60 days. Compared with the adequate diet, 15 weeks of n-3 PUFA deprivation reduced plasma DHA by 89% and brain DHA by 37%; these DHA concentrations did not change thereafter. In the n-3 PUFA adequate rats, DHA loss half-lives, calculated by plotting log10 (DHA radioactivity) against time after tracer injection, equaled 33 days in total brain phospholipid, 23 days in phosphatidylcholine, 32 days in phosphatidylethanolamine, 24 days in phosphatidylinositol and 58 days in phosphatidylserine; all had a decay slope significantly greater than 0 (p < 0.05). In the n-3 PUFA deprived rats, these half-lives were prolonged twofold or greater, and calculated rates of DHA loss from brain, Jout, were reduced. Mechanisms must exist in the adult rat brain to minimize DHA metabolic loss, and to do so even more effectively in the face of reduced n-3 PUFA availability for only 15 weeks.