Synaptic Connectivity and Cortical Maturation Are Promoted by the ω-3 Fatty Acid Docosahexaenoic Acid

Cereb Cortex. 2020 Jan 10;30(1):226-240. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhz083.


Brain development is likely impacted by micronutrients. This is supported by the effects of the ω-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) during early neuronal differentiation, when it increases neurite growth. Aiming to delineate DHA roles in postnatal stages, we selected the visual cortex due to its stereotypic maturation. Immunohistochemistry showed that young mice that received dietary DHA from birth exhibited more abundant presynaptic and postsynaptic specializations. DHA also increased density and size of synapses in a dose-dependent manner in cultured neurons. In addition, dendritic arbors of neurons treated with DHA were more complex. In agreement with improved connectivity, DHA enhanced physiological parameters of network maturation in vitro, including bursting strength and oscillatory behavior. Aiming to analyze functional maturation of the cortex, we performed in vivo electrophysiological recordings from awake mice to measure responses to patterned visual inputs. Dietary DHA robustly promoted the developmental increase in visual acuity, without altering light sensitivity. The visual acuity of DHA-supplemented animals continued to improve even after their cortex had matured and DHA abolished the acuity plateau. Our findings show that the ω-3 fatty acid DHA promotes synaptic connectivity and cortical processing. These results provide evidence that micronutrients can support the maturation of neuronal networks.

Keywords: docosahexaenoic acid; synapse; visual acuity; visual cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dendrites / drug effects
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Synapses / drug effects*
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Visual Acuity / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / drug effects*
  • Visual Cortex / growth & development*


  • Docosahexaenoic Acids