Omega-(n)-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are major components of neuronal membranes and have a wide range of functions, from modulating synaptic plasticity and neurochemistry, to neuroimmune-modulation and neuroprotection. Thus, it is not surprising that n-3 PUFA are widely acknowledged to have cognitive-enhancing effects. Although clinical evidence is somewhat conflicting, probably in large part due to methodological issues, animal studies have consistently demonstrated that n-3 PUFA are indispensable for proper brain development, may enhance cognitive function in healthy, adult individuals and attenuate cognitive impairment in aging and age-related disorders, such as dementia. This review discusses and integrates up to date evidence from clinical and animal studies investigating the cognitive-enhancing effects of n-3 PUFA during development, child- and adult-hood, as well as old-age with associated neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease. Furthermore, we cover the major underlying biochemical and neurophysiological mechanisms by which n-3 PUFA mediate these effects on cognition. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled 'Cognitive Enhancers'.
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