Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
. 2016 Feb 17;8(2):99.
doi: 10.3390/nu8020099.

Docosahexaenoic Acid and Cognition Throughout the Lifespan

Free PMC article

Docosahexaenoic Acid and Cognition Throughout the Lifespan

Michael J Weiser et al. Nutrients. .
Free PMC article


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the predominant omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) found in the brain and can affect neurological function by modulating signal transduction pathways, neurotransmission, neurogenesis, myelination, membrane receptor function, synaptic plasticity, neuroinflammation, membrane integrity and membrane organization. DHA is rapidly accumulated in the brain during gestation and early infancy, and the availability of DHA via transfer from maternal stores impacts the degree of DHA incorporation into neural tissues. The consumption of DHA leads to many positive physiological and behavioral effects, including those on cognition. Advanced cognitive function is uniquely human, and the optimal development and aging of cognitive abilities has profound impacts on quality of life, productivity, and advancement of society in general. However, the modern diet typically lacks appreciable amounts of DHA. Therefore, in modern populations, maintaining optimal levels of DHA in the brain throughout the lifespan likely requires obtaining preformed DHA via dietary or supplemental sources. In this review, we examine the role of DHA in optimal cognition during development, adulthood, and aging with a focus on human evidence and putative mechanisms of action.

Keywords: aging; brain lipids; comprehension; development; learning; memory; neurodegeneration; nutrition; omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 50 articles

See all "Cited by" articles


    1. Bryan J., Osendarp S., Hughes D., Calvaresi E., Baghurst K., van Klinken J.W. Nutrients for cognitive development in school-aged children. Nutr. Rev. 2004;62:295–306. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2004.tb00055.x. - DOI - PubMed
    1. Brenna J.T., Diau G.Y. The influence of dietary docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid on central nervous system polyunsaturated fatty acid composition. Prostaglandins Leukot. Essent. Fat. Acids. 2007;77:247–250. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2007.10.016. - DOI - PMC - PubMed
    1. Rapoport S.I. In vivo fatty acid incorporation into brain phospholipids in relation to signal transduction and membrane remodeling. Neurochem. Res. 1999;24:1403–1415. doi: 10.1023/A:1022584707352. - DOI - PubMed
    1. Garcia M.C., Ward G., Ma Y.C., Salem N., Jr., Kim H.Y. Effect of docosahexaenoic acid on the synthesis of phosphatidylserine in rat brain in microsomes and C6 glioma cells. J. Neurochem. 1998;70:24–30. doi: 10.1046/j.1471-4159.1998.70010024.x. - DOI - PubMed
    1. Suzuki H., Manabe S., Wada O., Crawford M.A. Rapid incorporation of docosahexaenoic acid from dietary sources into brain microsomal, synaptosomal and mitochondrial membranes in adult mice. Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res. 1997;67:272–278. - PubMed

Publication types