Docosahexaenoic acid: a positive modulator of Akt signaling in neuronal survival

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Aug 2;102(31):10858-63. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0502903102. Epub 2005 Jul 22.


Phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase [PI (3)K]/Akt signaling is a critical pathway in cell survival. Here, we demonstrate a mechanism where membrane alteration by the n-3 fatty acid status affects Akt signaling, impacting neuronal survival. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid highly enriched in neuronal membranes, promotes neuronal survival by facilitating membrane translocation/activation of Akt through its capacity to increase phosphatidylserine (PS), the major acidic phospholipid in cell membranes. The activation of PI (3)K and phosphatidylsinositol triphosphate formation were not affected by DHA, indicating that membrane interaction of Akt is the event responsible for the DHA effect. Docosapentaenoic acid, which replaces DHA during n-3 fatty acid deficiency, was less effective in accumulating PS and translocating Akt and thus less effective in preventing apoptosis. Consistently, in vivo reduction of DHA by dietary depletion of n-3 fatty acids decreased hippocampal PS and increased neuronal susceptibility to apoptosis in cultures. This mechanism may contribute to neurological deficits associated with n-3 fatty acid deficiency and support protective effects of DHA in pathological models such as brain ischemia or Alzheimer's disease.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Biological Transport, Active / drug effects
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • DNA / genetics
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Models, Neurological
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylinositol Phosphates / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylserines / metabolism
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Phosphatidylinositol Phosphates
  • Phosphatidylserines
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • DNA
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt