Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA, C22:6, ω-3) Composition of Milk and Mammary Gland Tissues of Lactating Mother Rats Is Severely Affected by Lead (Pb) Exposure

Biol Trace Elem Res. 2020 Jun;195(2):525-534. doi: 10.1007/s12011-019-01878-1. Epub 2019 Aug 28.


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6, ω-3), an ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), is critical for brain growth, development, and cognitive ability. It is consumed by offspring via milk during lactation. However, the toxic heavy metal lead (Pb) readily passes into the mammary glands of mother animals and then to offspring through milk. Here, we investigated whether DHA composition of milk and mammary gland tissues is affected by Pb exposure. Mother rats were exposed to Pb via drinking water (0.1%). The fatty acid profile and levels of reduced glutathione (GSH), lipid peroxide (LPO), and pro-inflammatory TNF-α in milk and mammary tissues were measured. Levels of DHA and antioxidant GSH decreased (P < 0.05), while LPO and TNF-α levels increased (P < 0.05) both in milk and mammary tissues. Our results suggest that toxic Pb exposure can upset the level of milk DHA, which may affect brain growth and development, and hence cognitive ability in adulthood and later life.

Keywords: Brain cognition; DHA; LPO; Lead toxicity; Milk-mammary gland; TNF-α.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism
  • Female
  • Lactation / drug effects
  • Lactation / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / drug effects*
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / metabolism
  • Milk / drug effects*
  • Milk / metabolism
  • Organometallic Compounds / administration & dosage
  • Organometallic Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar


  • Organometallic Compounds
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • lead acetate