Fish oil supplementation of control and (n-3) fatty acid-deficient male rats enhances reference and working memory performance and increases brain regional docosahexaenoic acid levels

J Nutr. 2008 Jun;138(6):1165-71. doi: 10.1093/jn/138.6.1165.


Most previous studies have focused on improved reference memory and recovery of whole brain docosahexaenoic acid [DHA, 22:6(n-3)] levels in DHA-deficient animals supplemented with fish oil (FO) or switched to an adequate DHA-enriched diet. The aims of this study were to determine whether reference and working memory performance can be enhanced in control male rats and improved in (n-3) fatty acid-deficient male rats given an FO supplement and whether brain DHA accumulation, deficiency, and recovery are region specific. From the embryo to postnatal d 140, 4 groups of rats were fed a nonpurified or sunflower oil-based (n-3) fatty acid-deficient diet alone or supplemented with (n-3) fatty acids from FO representing approximately 0.3% of the energy source. The male rats were tested at postnatal d 102-130 for spatial learning memory performance in the Morris water maze. The fatty acid composition of different brain regions was analyzed by GC. Rats fed the (n-3) fatty acid-deficient diet showed significantly poorer reference and working memory, and FO supplementation partially rescued both memory performances. Furthermore, FO supplementation during brain development and adulthood in normal rats resulted in significant enhancement of both memories. Following dietary DHA repletion, the hippocampus and olfactory bulbs accumulated more DHA, were more resistant to dietary DHA deprivation, and showed better DHA recovery than the visual cortex, frontal cortex, and cerebellum. These results suggest that DHA is critical for the development and maintenance of learning memory performance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / analysis
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / metabolism*
  • Fish Oils / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Memory / drug effects*
  • Random Allocation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Spatial Behavior / drug effects


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fish Oils
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids