Polyunsaturated fatty acids in the central nervous system: evolution of concepts and nutritional implications throughout life

Reprod Nutr Dev. Nov-Dec 2004;44(6):509-38. doi: 10.1051/rnd:2004063.

Abstract

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) and arachidonic acid (AA, 20:4n-6) are the major polyunsaturated fatty acids in the membranes of brain and retinal cells. Animals specifically deficient in dietary n-3 fatty acids have low DHA content in their membranes, reduced visual acuity and impaired learning ability. Studies on bottle-fed human infants have shown that adding DHA and AA to milk replacer-formulas can bring their concentrations in the infant blood lipids to values as high as those produced by breast-feeding and significantly improves mental development and maturation of visual function. In older subjects, diverse neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases have been associated to decreased blood levels of n-3 PUFA. Low intakes of fish or of n-3 PUFA in populations have been associated with increased risks of depression and Alzheimer disease, and n-3 PUFA, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5n-3), have shown efficacy as adjunctive treatment - and in some cases as the only treatment--in several psychiatric disorders. The mechanisms by which polyunsaturated fatty acids have an impact on neuronal functions will be reviewed: the modulation of membrane biophysical properties, regulation of neurotransmitter release, synthesis of biologically active oxygenated derivatives, and nuclear receptor-mediated transcription of genes responsive to fatty acids or to their derivatives.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Arachidonic Acid / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiology
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / metabolism*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / metabolism
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / physiology
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / physiology*
  • Female
  • Food, Fortified
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula / chemistry
  • Infant Formula / standards
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Milk, Human / chemistry
  • Milk, Human / physiology
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Pregnancy
  • Visual Acuity / drug effects*
  • Visual Acuity / physiology

Substances

  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Arachidonic Acid
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid