Omega-3 fatty acids reverse age-related decreases in nuclear receptors and increase neurogenesis in old rats

J Neurosci Res. 2010 Aug 1;88(10):2091-102. doi: 10.1002/jnr.22390.


Retinoic acid receptors (RARs), retinoid X receptors (RXRs), and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) are transcription factors involved in many cellular processes, such as learning and memory. RAR and RXR mRNA levels decrease with ageing, and the decreases can be reversed by retinoic acid treatment, which also alleviates age-related memory deficits. The omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have neuroprotective effects in the aged brain and are endogenous ligands of RXR and PPAR. We investigated whether dietary EPA and DHA supplementation reverses age-related declines in protein levels of these receptors in rat forebrain. Two studies were conducted comparing adult and old rats. In the first, old rats were fed standard or EPA/DHA-enriched (270 mg/kg/day, EPA to DHA ratio 1.5:1) diets for 12 weeks. Analysis by Western blot revealed significant decreases in RARalpha, RXRalpha, RXRbeta, and PPARgamma in the forebrain with ageing, which were reversed by supplementation. Immunohistochemical analysis of the hippocampus showed significant age-related decreases in RARalpha and RXRbeta expression in CA1 and the dentate gyrus, which were restored by supplementation. Decreases in hippocampal doublecortin expression were also partially alleviated, suggesting a positive effect on neurogenesis. We also investigated the effects of DHA supplementation (300 mg/kg/day for 12 weeks) on RARalpha, RXRalpha, and RXRbeta expression in the prefrontal cortex, striatum, and hippocampus. Overall, DHA supplementation appeared to increase receptor expression compared with the untreated old group. These observations illustrate additional mechanisms that might underlie the neuroprotective effects of omega-3 fatty acids in ageing.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Diet
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism
  • Doublecortin Protein
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Neurogenesis / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / metabolism*


  • Dcx protein, rat
  • Doublecortin Protein
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid