Role of phosphatidylcholine-DHA in preventing APOE4-associated Alzheimer's disease

FASEB J. 2019 Feb;33(2):1554-1564. doi: 10.1096/fj.201801412R. Epub 2018 Oct 5.


Dietary and supplemental intake of the ω-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) reduces risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and ameliorates symptoms. The apolipoprotein E ( APOE) 4 allele is the strongest risk factor for sporadic AD, exclusive of age. APOE4 carriers respond well to the DHA present in fish but do not respond as well to dietary supplements. The mechanisms behind this varied response remain unknown. I posit that the difference is that fish contain DHA in phospholipid form, whereas fish oil supplements do not. This influences whether DHA is metabolized to nonesterified DHA (free DHA) or a phospholipid form called lysophosphatidylcholine DHA (DHA-lysoPC). Free DHA is transported across the outer membrane leaflet of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) via passive diffusion, and DHA-lysoPC is transported across the inner membrane leaflet of the BBB via the major facilitator superfamily domain-containing protein 2A. I propose that APOE4 carriers have impaired brain transport of free DHA but not of DHA-lysoPC, as a consequence of a breakdown in the outer membrane leaflet of the BBB, putting them at increased risk for AD. Dietary sources of DHA in phospholipid form may provide a means to increase plasma levels of DHA-lysoPC, thereby decreasing the risk of AD.-Patrick, R. P. Role of phosphatidylcholine-DHA in preventing APOE4-associated Alzheimer's disease.

Keywords: amyloid-β plaques; dementia; phospholipid DHA; tau tangles; ω-3 fatty acid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / prevention & control*
  • Apolipoprotein E4 / metabolism*
  • Biological Transport
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Diet
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism*
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Genetic Carrier Screening
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Phosphatidylcholines / metabolism*


  • Apolipoprotein E4
  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids