Focus on fatty acids in the neurometabolic pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders

J Inherit Metab Dis. 2018 Jul;41(4):597-611. doi: 10.1007/s10545-018-0158-3. Epub 2018 Mar 9.


Continuous research into the pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders, such as major depressive disorder (MDD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia, suggests an important role for metabolism. This narrative review will provide an up-to-date summary of how metabolism is thought to be involved in the pathophysiology of these psychiatric disorders. We will focus on (I) the important role of fatty acids in these metabolic alterations, (II) whether fatty acid alterations represent epiphenomena or risk factors, and (III) similarities and dissociations in fatty acid alterations between different psychiatric disorders. (Historical) epidemiological evidence links fatty acid intake to psychiatric disorder prevalence, corroborated by altered fatty acid concentrations measured in psychiatric patients. These fatty acid alterations are connected with other concomitant pathophysiological mechanisms, including biological stress (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis and oxidative stress), inflammation, and brain network structure and function. Metabolomics and lipidomics studies are underway to more deeply investigate this complex network of associated neurometabolic alterations. Supplementation of fatty acids as disease-modifying nutraceuticals has clinical potential, particularly add-on eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in depressed patients with markers of increased inflammation. However, by interpreting the observed fatty acid alterations as partly (mal)adaptive phenomena, we attempt to nuance translational expectations and provide new clinical applications for these novel neurometabolic insights, e.g., to predict treatment response or depression recurrence. In conclusion, placing fatty acids in context can contribute to further understanding and optimized treatment of psychiatric disorders, in order to diminish their overwhelming burden of disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / analogs & derivatives
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism*
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Mental Disorders / metabolism*
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism*


  • Fatty Acids
  • eicosapentaenoic acid ethyl ester
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid