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.