Dietary (n-3) fatty acids and brain development

J Nutr. 2007 Apr;137(4):855-9. doi: 10.1093/jn/137.4.855.


The (n-3) fatty acids are essential dietary nutrients, and one of their important roles is providing docosahexaenoic acid [22:6(n-3)] (DHA) for growth and function of nervous tissue. Reduced DHA is associated with impairments in cognitive and behavioral performance, effects which are particularly important during brain development. Recent studies suggest that DHA functions in neurogenesis, neurotransmission, and protection against oxidative stress. These functions relate to the roles of DHA within the hydrophobic core of neural membranes and effects of unesterified DHA. Reviewed here are some of the recent studies that have begun to elucidate the role of DHA in brain development and function. A better understanding of development and age-specific changes in DHA transfer and function in the developing brain may provide important insight into the role of DHA in developmental disorders in infants and children, as well as at other stages of the lifespan.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / embryology
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Diet*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology
  • Fetus / metabolism
  • Humans


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids