Brain eicosapentaenoic acid metabolism as a lead for novel therapeutics in major depression

Brain Behav Immun. 2020 Mar;85:21-28. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2019.07.001. Epub 2019 Jul 3.


The results of several meta-analyses suggest that eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) supplementation is therapeutic in managing the symptoms of major depression. It was previously assumed that because EPA is extremely low in the brain it did not cross the blood-brain barrier and any therapeutic effects it exerted would be via the periphery. However, more recent studies have established that EPA does enter the brain, but is rapidly metabolised following entry. While EPA does not accumulate within the brain, it is present in microglia and homeostatic mechanisms may regulate its esterification to phospholipids that serve important roles in cell signaling. Furthermore, a variety of signaling molecules from EPA have been described in the periphery and they have the potential to exert effects within the brain. If EPA is confirmed to be therapeutic in major depression as a result of adequately powered randomized clinical trials, future research on brain EPA metabolism could lead to the discovery of novel targets for treating or preventing major depression.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Depression
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / drug therapy
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid*
  • Humans
  • Phospholipids


  • Phospholipids
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid