Omega-3 Deficiency and Neurodegeneration in the Substantia Nigra: Involvement of Increased Nitric Oxide Production and Reduced BDNF Expression

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2014 Jun;1840(6):1902-12. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2013.12.023. Epub 2013 Dec 20.


Background: Our previous study demonstrated that essential fatty acid (EFA) dietary restriction over two generations induced midbrain dopaminergic cell loss and oxidative stress in the substantia nigra (SN) but not in the striatum of young rats. In the present study we hypothesized that omega-3 deficiency until adulthood would reduce striatum's resilience, increase nitric oxide (NO) levels and the number of BDNF-expressing neurons, both potential mechanisms involved in SN neurodegeneration.

Methods: Second generation rats were raised from gestation on control or EFA-restricted diets until young or adulthood. Lipoperoxidation, NO content, total superoxide dismutase (t-SOD) and catalase enzymatic activities were assessed in the SN and striatum. The number of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH)- and BDNF-expressing neurons was analyzed in the SN.

Results: Increased NO levels were observed in the striatum of both young and adult EFA-deficient animals but not in the SN, despite a similar omega-3 depletion (~65%) in these regions. Increased lipoperoxidation and decreased catalase activity were found in both regions, while lower tSOD activity was observed only in the striatum. Fewer TH- (~40%) and BDNF-positive cells (~20%) were detected at the SN compared to the control.

Conclusion: The present findings demonstrate a differential effect of omega-3 deficiency on NO production in the rat's nigrostriatal system. Prolonging omega-3 depletion until adulthood impaired striatum's anti-oxidant resources and BDNF distribution in the SN, worsening dopaminergic cell degeneration.

General significance: Omega-3 deficiency can reduce the nigrostriatal system's ability to maintain homeostasis under oxidative conditions, which may enhance the risk of Parkinson's disease.

Keywords: Brain-derived neurotrophic factor; Docosahexaenoic acid; Dopamine; Lipoperoxidation; Oxidative stress; Striatum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / analysis
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / physiology*
  • Catalase / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / physiology*
  • Female
  • Lipid Peroxidation
  • Male
  • Nitric Oxide / biosynthesis*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Parkinson Disease / etiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Substantia Nigra / physiology*
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / analysis


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Catalase
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Superoxide Dismutase