The importance of n-6/n-3 fatty acids ratio in the major depressive disorder

Medicina (Kaunas). 2016;52(3):139-47. doi: 10.1016/j.medici.2016.05.003. Epub 2016 May 30.


This review aims to clarify the relation between the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids and the development of depression. It is explained how these fatty acids are involved in the production of eicosanoids and how these fatty acids can affect the membrane fluidity, by their incorporation into membrane phospholipids. In addition, it is described how omega-3 derivatives are shown to regulate gene transcription. In view of the pathophysiology of depression, the mechanisms of how an altered ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 could be involved in depression are discussed. Possible mechanisms could include an increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which can activate the HPA axis and a changed membrane fluidity, which potentially affects membrane bound enzymes, ion channels, receptor activity and neurotransmitter binding. In view of clinical trials, it is also discussed whether omega-3 supplementation could have a beneficial effect in the treatment of depressive patient. There are strong indications that an increased ratio of membrane omega-6 to omega-3 is involved in the pathogenesis of depression and so far, omega-3 supplementation has shown positive effects in clinical trials.

Keywords: Arachidonic acid; Depression; Eicosapentaenoic acid; Polyunsaturated fatty acids ratio.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / metabolism*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Diet, Western
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Dopamine / biosynthesis
  • Eicosanoids / biosynthesis
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Membrane Fluidity
  • Phospholipids / biosynthesis
  • Serotonin / biosynthesis


  • Cytokines
  • Eicosanoids
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6
  • Phospholipids
  • Serotonin
  • Dopamine