The salutary effects of DHA dietary supplementation on cognition, neuroplasticity, and membrane homeostasis after brain trauma

J Neurotrauma. 2011 Oct;28(10):2113-22. doi: 10.1089/neu.2011.1872. Epub 2011 Oct 4.


The pathology of traumatic brain injury (TBI) is characterized by the decreased capacity of neurons to metabolize energy and sustain synaptic function, likely resulting in cognitive and emotional disorders. Based on the broad nature of the pathology, we have assessed the potential of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to counteract the effects of concussive injury on important aspects of neuronal function and cognition. Fluid percussion injury (FPI) or sham injury was performed, and rats were then maintained on a diet high in DHA (1.2% DHA) for 12 days. We found that DHA supplementation, which elevates brain DHA content, normalized levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), synapsin I (Syn-1), cAMP-responsive element-binding protein (CREB), and calcium/calmodulin-dependent kinase II (CaMKII), and improved learning ability in FPI rats. It is known that BDNF facilitates synaptic transmission and learning ability by modulating Syn-I, CREB, and CaMKII signaling. The DHA diet also counteracted the FPI-reduced manganese superoxide dismutase (SOD) and Sir2 (a NAD+-dependent deacetylase). Given the involvement of SOD and Sir2 in promoting metabolic homeostasis, DHA may help the injured brain by providing resistance to oxidative stress. Furthermore, DHA normalized levels of calcium-independent phospholipase A2 (iPLA2) and syntaxin-3, which may help preserve membrane homeostasis and function after FPI. The overall results emphasize the potential of dietary DHA to counteract broad and fundamental aspects of TBI pathology that may translate into preserved cognitive capacity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Brain Injuries / drug therapy*
  • Brain Injuries / pathology
  • Brain Injuries / psychology*
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2 / metabolism
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cyclic AMP Response Element-Binding Protein / metabolism
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / therapeutic use*
  • Hemostasis / drug effects*
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects
  • Lipid Metabolism / physiology
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Membranes / drug effects
  • Membranes / pathology
  • Munc18 Proteins / metabolism
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Phospholipases A2, Calcium-Independent / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sirtuin 1 / metabolism
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism
  • Synapsins / metabolism


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Cyclic AMP Response Element-Binding Protein
  • Munc18 Proteins
  • Stxbp3 protein, rat
  • Synapsins
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2
  • Phospholipases A2, Calcium-Independent
  • Sirt1 protein, rat
  • Sirtuin 1