n-3 fatty acids: role in neurogenesis and neuroplasticity

Curr Med Chem. 2013;20(24):2953-63. doi: 10.2174/09298673113209990140.


Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are essential unsaturated fatty acids with a double bond (C=C) starting after the third carbon atom from the end of the carbon chain. They are important nutrients but, unfortunately, mammals cannot synthesize them, whereby they must be obtained from food sources or from supplements. Amongst nutritionally important polyunsaturated n-3 fatty acids, α-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are highly concentrated in the brain and have anti-oxidative stress, anti-inflammatory and antiapoptotic effects. They are involved in many bodily processes and may reportedly lead to neuron protection in neurological diseases. aged or damaged neurons and in Alzheimer's disease. Their effect in cognitive and behavioral functions and in several neurological and psychiatric disorders has been also proven. The dentate gyrus (DG), a sub-region of hippocampus, is implicated in cognition and mood regulation. The hippocampus represents one of the two areas in the mammalian brain in which adult neurogenesis occurs. This process is associated with beneficial effects on cognition, mood and chronic pharmacological treatment. The exposure to n-3 fatty acids enhances adult hippocampal neurogenesis associated with cognitive and behavioral processes, promotes synaptic plasticity by increasing long-term potentiation and modulates synaptic protein expression to stimulate the dendritic arborization and new spines formation. On this basis we review the effect of n-3 fatty acids on adult hippocampal neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. Moreover their possible use as a new therapeutic approach for neurodegenerative diseases is pointed out.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affective Disorders, Psychotic / physiopathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / prevention & control
  • Animals
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Dentate Gyrus / metabolism*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Animal
  • Neurogenesis / drug effects*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects*
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3